Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 11, 2012

Authorities release identity: Man shot and killed after struggle with police was Georgia resident

BECKLEY — Authorities have identified a man who was shot and killed July 7 after fleeing Bluefield police in a stolen police cruiser.

During a press conference Tuesday at the West Virginia State Police Detachment in Beckley, First Sgt. Michael Baylous, public information officer, identified the man as Stephen Lawrence Knight Jr., 31, of Villa Rica, Ga. The name had been withheld pending the notification his family.

“We had a difficult time finding his family,” Baylous said. “That’s the reason it took so long to have this press conference.”

Knight was one of several people in a vehicle pulled over on Bluefield Avenue at 11:45 p.m. Saturday, July 7 during a traffic stop by Bluefield police. Knight gave officers a false name and refused to provide information such as a date of birth, Baylous said. He also resisted a protective or “Terry frisk” for weapons. Knight was handcuffed and placed in a police cruiser.

While the officers on the scene continued to determine the identities of the other people in the vehicle, Knight was able to slip the handcuffs in front of his body and steal the cruiser, Baylous said. A pursuit started on U.S. Route 460.

Trooper J.R. Coburn, who was guarding a staging area for AEP power line crews,  became aware of the situation, Baylous said. Coburn was in uniform and on duty at the time.

“As the suspect approached the trooper’s cruiser on the roadway, he tried to make a turn onto Country Girl Road,” Baylous said. “The Bluefield officers following the suspect were able to block him in. The suspect exited the cruiser and ran up an embankment. A struggle occurred on the ground with the suspect trying to gain control of a Bluefield officer’s handgun.”

Knight refused to give up the gun and was fatally shot by Coburn, Baylous said.

Baylous said at the press conference that a witness told investigators that Knight had said previously that he would not be arrested by police again, and that he also stated that he would kill himself or do something to cause police to kill him if he was in danger of being apprehended. Knight was a convicted felon who had multiple arrests and convictions in Georgia and Florida.

The previous arrests included “a laundry list of charges” ranging from drug violations, breaking and entering, burglary and theft from vehicles. There were also “some child-related arrests,” Baylous said.

When asked about Coburn’s status, Baylous stated that he is back on duty.

Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash said Monday that the Bluefield officer who lost the handgun during the struggle Saturday was Patrolman John Murray Jr. Ash was not sure which officer had been driving the cruiser that was taken.

Baylous said he had not seen the reports concerning the loss of the weapon or the theft of the police cruiser, and referred questions about the case to the Bluefield Police Department.

This case is the second one involving Coburn this year, Ash said.

In January, Coburn fatally shot Jackie Spalding Jr., 34, of Colorado during a standoff with police at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bluewell. Ash said he had not yet received a report about that shooting. Baylous did not know the status of that case.

The July 7 incident is being investigated by First Lt. Eldridge Hensley, executive officer of state police detachment in Beckley, Baylous said. No date had been set for the report’s completion.

“As you can imagine, these investigations are rather lengthy,” Baylous said. “The important thing for us is to gather the facts and report them in an accurate manner. And for us to hurry that process along to appease a prosecutor’s office or a media outlet, we would be doing the public a disservice.”

“The real story is that a convicted felon who had been arrested numerous times and made the statement that he would not be taken by the police again and was willing do whatever was possible is not on the street anymore. It is unfortunate that he had to die this instance, but law enforcement did not go out and put him in that situation. He made a conscious decision to put himself in that position,” Baylous said.

“As often is the case, we take incidents like this and we critique them afterwards to see what we can do not only for our officers’ safety, but the general safety of the public. Hopefully, there will be some type of lesson learned from this that will make it safer for all those involved in the future,” he said.ꆱ

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