Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 12, 2012

Ash: 2 fatal shootings by trooper were justifiable

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash has determined two fatal shootings this year by a West Virginia State Trooper were justifiable.

In a letter to West Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. C.R. Smithers, Ash said there would “be no prosecution” of West Virginia State Trooper J.R. Coburn in the shooting deaths of Jackie Spaulding Jr. and Stephen Lawrence Knight earlier this year.

“The scope of my inquiry into the matter was to determine if the above mentioned homicides were criminal or justified,” Ash stated in the letter. “I was not called upon to critique the police work. It is evident that Trooper Coburn was twice placed in very difficult situations with armed and desperate people and his actions may have prevented the loss of innocent life.”

Jackie Spaulding Jr., 34, of Colorado, was fatally shot at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bluewell on Jan. 29. Coburn — who was heading home from his post in McDowell County — and Mercer County Deputy M.S. Horn responded to a 911 call placed by Spaulding’s uncle, Ash said.

“The officers told Spaulding to show his hands and put his gun down,” Ash said. “Spaulding did neither. As the officers approached the passenger side of Spaulding’s vehicle, Spaulding moved in such a way as to turn toward the officers, slid his left hand near the trigger and bring the barrel down. Coburn fired his weapon and Deputy Horn prepared to fire his.”

Ash said Spaulding’s family had indicated he was suicidal, especially after being arrested on burglary, assault and conspiracy charges three days before the shooting incident. Ash said Spaulding also left a “long and detailed” suicide note.

“Although it was Coburn who fired the shots, it is important to note that Deputy Horn, responding to the same movements, also prepared to fire his weapon,” Ash said in the letter. “I believe the facts point to a situation where Mr. Spaulding wanted to commit suicide but did not have the courage to do so himself. Coburn fired his weapon in self-defense and defense of Deputy Horn.”

Stephen Lawrence Knight, 31, of Villa Rica, Ga., was fatally shot around 11:47 p.m. July 7, by Coburn. Ash said the incident began earlier that night when Knight and three other passengers were pulled over by an officer with the Bluefield Police Department. When asked to step out of the car “Knight was acting irrationally and would not identify himself” to law enforcement, Ash said.

Knight assaulted the officer who was attempting to search him before he was restrained by three officers and handcuffed. However, Knight managed to step through his cuffs and then stole a Bluefield Police cruiser. Knight wrecked the cruiser on U.S. 460, after trying to make a turn on Country Girl Road, following a police pursuit and then fled on foot from Bluefield Police Officers J.W. Murray and R.F. Gibson.

“When Coburn arrived at the spot where Knight had wrecked and fled on foot, officers Murray and Gibson were engaged in a struggle on the ground (with Knight),” Ash stated in the letter.

“Knight was on top of Murray and was trying to gain control of Murray’s sidearm. Gibson’s attempt to assist Murray by use of non-lethal force was ineffective. Officer Murray called out that he had lost control of his weapon and that Knight now had his gun and was going to kill him. Coburn fired one shot very near the person of Knight, but Knight did not stop the struggle with Murray. Coburn then fired a contact shot into Knight’s head killing him.”

According to Ash, his inquiry into both incidents indicated Coburn’s actions in both situations were justified.

“I believe the facts point to a situation wherein Trooper Coburn had to fire his weapon to protect the lives of other officers as well as his own,” Ash said. “As the deceased gave him no other options, the shooting was justified.”

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com쇓