People pause to stop traffic on Franklin Street during a Jan. 14 walk to bring attention to police shootings, after a large group of people met at the Cumberland County Courthouse for a peaceful walk in solidarity with Jason Walker's family and others who have been affected by police violence on Jan. 14 in Fayetteville. Melissa Sue Gerrits / Carolina Public Press

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The off-duty Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed Jason Walker will not be charged with any criminal offense, the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys announced Thursday.

Kimberly Spahos, executive director of the conference, said the state would “not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooting of Jason Walker was unlawful,” citing state self-defense laws.

Jeffrey Hash, the sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed Walker in January, alleged that Walker walked in front of his truck on Bingham Drive in Fayetteville and broke his windshield with one of the wipers.

“He pulled out one of the daggone windshield wipers, and he hit the windshield with the wiper,” Walker’s father said of his son when speaking with officers on the scene, as recorded in police body-cam footage released a week after the incident.

After reviewing the state’s investigation into the shooting, Spahos and her office upheld Hash’s allegations and the eyewitness account from Walker’s father.

The investigation was conducted by the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation after Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins called on the agency to do so in an effort to limit a conflict of interest.

For the same reasoning, Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West deferred any potential prosecution to the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys.

Details of the shooting

Spahos said in her decision that Hash was driving down Bingham Drive, with his wife and teenage child in the vehicle when Walker began running across the road.

After Hash stopped his truck, Walker jumped on the hood and beat the windshield with a wiper until the glass caved in, causing shards to hit Hash and his wife, Spahos said. Walker, as he jumped on the hood, ignored shouting from Hash and his wife, according to the decision from Spahos. 

As Hash exited the vehicle, Walker lunged at him, Spahos said. Hash then shot Walker four times with his Glock 9 mm pistol.

An autopsy from the state medical examiner found that the four bullets fired by Hash struck Walker in the chest, head, thigh and back. Two of these were deemed fatal.

Spahos said the trajectory of the bullet that struck Walker’s back indicated that his back was not turned to Hash when the off-duty sheriff’s deputy shot him.

Legal reasoning

In the decision, Spahos cited a state statute often referred to as the “castle doctrine.” This law allows the use of defensive, deadly force when the occupant of a home, vehicle or workplace has “a reasonable fear of imminent death or serious bodily harm to himself or herself or another.”

This law applies when the person against whom the defensive force is used has unlawfully entered or attempted to enter or remove the occupant from a home, vehicle or workplace. The person who used the defensive force must also have a reason to think that the forcible entry was occurring or had occurred.

While there is no dispute that Hash shot and killed Walker, Spahos said, the facts of the case fall under the state’s castle doctrine.

According to Spahos’ legal analysis, the prosecution is required to look at the events from Hash’s perspective in self-defense cases such as this, regardless of other interpretations of Walker’s intent.

“We cannot view these events from the comfort of our desks after cool reflection, as Hash was not granted the luxury of time and reflection,” Spahos said. “Instead, he had to make a split-second decision. While it is possible that other alternatives were available to Hash, the analysis is not and cannot be whether his actions were the only option or even the best option.”

In determining whether charges are filed, the state must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hash violated the law, a standard that couldn’t be met, Spahos said.

“This shooting was indisputably tragic, but based upon these facts, the state of North Carolina will not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooting of Jason Walker was unlawful,” she said.

Ben Sessoms

Ben Sessoms is a Carolina Public Press staff writer based in Fayetteville. Send an email to bsessoms@carolinapublicpress.org to contact him.

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