Nearly 11 months after a Cherokee County man was shot by police officers in the doorway of his own home, a State Bureau of Investigation probe into the shooting is complete.
The case is now in the hands of Special Prosecutor Lance Sigmon, who is reviewing the SBI report. SBI reports on law enforcement incidents never become public but are used to determine whether criminal charges are warranted against the officers involved.
While the initial probe is complete, Sigmon could request additional information from the SBI to make his decision.
“I cannot give you a timeline because we do not know how much additional information there will be to review or if additional information will need to be requested,” said Kimberly Spahos, executive director of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys.
Typically, the district attorney in the region where the incident occurred would be responsible for receiving and evaluating the SBI report. But District Attorney Ashley Welch sought to recuse herself from handling the case due to statements she said members of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office made to her following the shooting. In a March 27 letter to the N.C. Attorney General’s Office, she said that as a result of information conveyed from the CCSO, she charged the shooting victim, Jason Harley Kloepfer, with a pair of misdemeanors. But a few months later, she dismissed those charges.
“I anticipate myself and others in my office will be interviewed by SBI as part of the ongoing investigation,” she wrote.
In June, a representative from the N.C. Department of Justice told The Smoky Mountain News the office was “unable to take the case because of capacity constraints.” However, Lance Sigmon, a special prosecutor for the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, was assigned to take it on. According to an N.C. State Bar listing, Sigmon lives in the 36th Judicial District of Burke, Caldwell and Catawba counties and has been admitted to the state bar since 1988.
Kloepfer was seriously injured in the Dec. 13, 2022, shooting that occurred after a neighbor called 911 claiming she was concerned that he had hurt his wife. Citing a potential hostage situation, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office requested assistance from the Cherokee Indian Police Department’s SWAT team, which arrived in the early morning hours. Home security video shows Kloepfer coming to the door with his hands up, in compliance with police orders. However, as he stood there three CIPD officers fired their weapons at him.
The video Kloepfer released in January shows a sequence of events that contrasts sharply with the CCSO’s initial story that Kloepfer had prompted the shooting by confronting officers as he emerged from his camper trailer. A federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Western North Carolina seeks millions in damages and claims that officers violated Kloepfer’s rights in a variety of ways. It has the potential to set precedent on the limits of legal protections for tribal officers.
The SBI investigation and special prosecutor process is separate from the lawsuit and will be used to determine whether criminal charges are warranted against any of the officers involved.