District Attorney clears Rowan County deputies in shooting investigation

Man’s death was result of suicide, not gunfire from deputies
The investigation shows this picture of a gunshot in the front passenger glass of a Rowan...
The investigation shows this picture of a gunshot in the front passenger glass of a Rowan Deputy's car.(Rowan Sheriff's Office)
Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 5:18 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 22, 2021 at 6:51 PM EDT
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ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Following an investigation, Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook says deputies with the Rowan Sheriff’s Office “acted lawfully and did not violate any laws” in a fatal shooting that happened in February.

The incident happened on February 17, 2021, when deputies say they got word that a wanted person was going to be at a home on Jacob Bost Road in Salisbury. There, deputies saw two people in masks leave the home and drive off in a pickup truck.

MORE: Click here to read the full press release.

Deputies said one of the two people matched the general description of the wanted suspect.

Officers followed the truck down a few streets before it wrecked near the Olive Garden on Klumac Road. With a flattened tire, the truck continued on toward the southbound ramp of I-85 and made a rolling stop.

Deputies say the passenger, identified Thursday as 28-year-old James Edward Coe, got out of the truck and fired a long gun at the pursuing officers. One patrol vehicle was struck approximately three times in the front passenger window and door.

Two deputies returned fire at Coe, who they say took off into a wooded area while continuing to shoot at the deputies.

With the help of the Salisbury Police Department and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, a perimeter was established between the area of West Ritchie Road and the I-85 ramp.

Officers then heard a single gunshot inside the perimeter area and found Coe dead with multiple gunshot wounds inside the perimeter. A firearm was also recovered.

The driver of the truck, identified as 23-year-old Devin Alexander Cornwell, was apprehended without incident. He is charged with felony fleeing to elude law enforcement in a motor vehicle. He also had an outstanding warrant for his arrest for failure to appear.

Deputies say Coe had outstanding warrants related to a Feb. 1 police chase in Rockwell for felony fleeing to elude law enforcement in a motor vehicle, reckless driving to endanger, speeding 90 miles per hour in a 35 mile per hour zone, no operator’s license, driving right of center, and failure to stop at a stop sign.

Coe was also wanted in the State of Virginia for failure to appear on a robbery charge. At the time of the Rowan County incident where he lost his life, he was out on bond for possession of a firearm by a felon.

Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) were contacted in reference to the incident. On Thursday, Cook released a summary of the investigation.

The autopsy determined that Coe died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head and ruled the manner of death as suicide.

“Our office has a duty to objectively analyze the totality of the evidence and the circumstances,” Cook wrote in a conclusion. “Our office has reviewed the NCSBI investigation and consulted with investigating SBI agents. It is clear from the investigation that the .40 caliber bullet (consistent with being shot from one of the deputies firearms) that was found in Mr. Coe’s upper right back did not cause his death.”

“Based upon the investigation, all of the credible, available, and believable evidence supports the conclusion that Mr. Coe was armed with a .22 caliber rifle and shot at Rowan County deputies following a vehicle chase. As a result of this immediate threat, deputies returned fire and Mr. Coe fled into a wooded area. Mr. Coe was later found hiding in the wooded area and as deputies approached to take him into custody, they heard a single gunshot fired. Mr. Coe was found to be deceased with a single gunshot wound to his head. Mr. Coe’s cause of death was due to the self-inflicted gunshot wound from the .22 caliber bullet from his own rifle,” Cook added.

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