Every day, our journalism dismantles barriers and shines a light on the critical overlooked and under-reported issues important to all North Carolinians.
Before you go …
If you like what you are reading and believe in independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism like ours—journalism the way it should be—please contribute to keep us going. Reporting like this isn’t free to produce and we cannot do this alone. Thank you!
RALEIGH — State Capitol Police cited a protester for second-degree trespassing Wednesday outside the N.C. Judicial Center as he called for the arrest of an off-duty Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy who, weeks prior in Fayetteville, fatally shot Jason Walker, an unarmed Black man.
Shaun McMillan, an activist in Fayetteville, was leading a small protest right outside the building when a State Capitol Police officer approached and asked him to conduct the gathering off state property.
State Capitol Police Sgt. Michele Larson said a permit is required to protest on the grounds of the N.C. Judicial Center.
McMillan initially refused to relocate and continued to protest, along with a few others from across the state, until an officer handcuffed him.
Minutes later, officers released McMillan and cited him for second-degree trespassing.
Larson said they decided to release him because they wanted the protesters to speak their minds, as long as they did so legally.
After being released, McMillan and the rest of the protesters continued to gather on the public sidewalk just outside the N.C. Judicial Center premises.
Reason for protest
On Jan. 8, Jeffrey Hash, an off-duty Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy, shot and killed Walker following an incident where Hash alleges that Walker stepped onto the street in front of his truck, ripped off a windshield wiper and broke his windshield.
In police body-cam footage released a week later, Walker’s father, in a witness interview with officers on the scene, seemed to confirm Hash’s retelling.
“(Jason Walker) pulled off one of the daggone windshield wipers and hit the windshield,” Walker’s father said in the video.
In the days after the shooting, Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins referred the investigation to the State Bureau of Investigation. Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West handed any potential prosecution to the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, which is housed at the N.C. Judicial Center, where Wednesday’s protests took place.
Officials sought this outside help to limit a conflict of interest, Carolina Public Press previously reported.
McMillan said in a phone interview prior to Wednesday’s protest that Hash should have been arrested immediately following the shooting. He called it “a critical mistake” by the Fayetteville Police Department.
“This is overdue,” he said. “Our patience is gone. We don’t have patience for a system that would allow somebody to be gunned down in their own neighborhood without so much as an arrest.”
He called on Kimberly Spahos, director of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, to press charges and have Hash arrested.
While the conference would lead any potential prosecution against Hash, Spahos said in a phone interview prior to the protest that no charging decision can be made amid an ongoing criminal investigation.
“We can’t make a charging decision on this case or any case until the investigation is complete,” she said. “It would be imprudent and improper to do so.”
Once the SBI completes its investigation and submits its findings to the Conference of DAs, Spahos said a charging decision can be made based on that report.
She is bound by the rules of professional conduct from speaking on any facts regarding an ongoing investigation, she said.
The SBI coming in to investigate officer shootings is standard procedure legislated by the General Assembly last year, as long as certain public officials, such as Fayetteville Police Chief Hawkins, request it.
“This is a standard process for how this is handled,” Spahos said. “We wait for the full investigation to be complete before we make decisions.”
McMillan said he understands the process and hopes Hash will be charged when possible.
“As soon as that SBI investigation is completed, she will make the decision, and we hope that she makes the right one,” he said.