The State Bureau of Investigation has finished a nearly one-year probe into whether Cherokee tribal police committed a crime by shooting an unarmed man in the doorway of his home.
The investigation, which is not public, now goes to a special prosecutor who will decide whether to bring charges against the officers.
The special prosecutor was appointed after District Attorney Ashley Hornsby Welch recused herself in the case of Jason Kloepfer, a Cherokee County man who was shot Dec. 13 at his home situated outside the jurisdiction of tribal police. Kloepfer survived the shooting but sustained multiple injuries.
Asked Nov. 9 about the completed investigation, SBI spokesperson Anjanette Grube declined to describe any aspect of the probe, only saying she could “confirm that case is now pending decision with the prosecutor.”
Kloepfer, 44, was initially charged with communicating threats and resisting a public officer, but after he posted in-home security video of him standing with his hands up in the doorway as he was shot, Welch dismissed the charges. The DA then requested the Attorney General’s Office handle the case, saying she had a conflict of interest.
Special prosecutor Lance Sigmon is handling the case, said North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys Director Kimberly Spahos.
Sigmon would likely continue to receive investigatory information from the SBI, according to Spahos, who said she could not give a timeline for a decision because it’s not known how much additional information the SBI will provide or if Sigmon will request more.
“The investigation will be reviewed thoroughly, if needed, follow up will be requested and then a decision will be made regarding charging,” the DA conference director said.
It is customary for the SBI to be requested by law enforcement agencies to investigate shootings by their officers. The investigations are not considered public.
The tribal police SWAT team was called by Cherokee County Sheriff Dustin Smith’s office to assist with what was described as a potential hostage situation at Kloepfer’s home. He was shot at least 15 times while standing next to his wife, Alison Mahler, according to a federal lawsuit that Kloepfer has filed saying police violated his civil rights.
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He was struck at least twice and nearly died, suffering damage to his heart, liver and other areas, said the 195-page complaint filed June 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina in Asheville. The suit names 28 defendants, including the sheriff, tribal Police Chief Carla Neadeau and the three officers it says shot Kloepfer ― Lt. Neil Ferguson, Special Operations Officer Nathan Messer and Patrol Officer Chris Harris. It also names the Ohio Casualty Insurance Company that covers the sheriff and his employees.
Contacted Nov. 9, Kloepfer’s attorney in the case, Ellis Boyle, noted the long time frame of the probe.
“We appreciate the diligence and the seriousness that the SBI has apparently taken with this investigation We do not have any indication of what the outcome will be, but we certainly hope for justice for Jason and Ali,” Boyle said.
Smith and the deputies filed an Aug. 28 motion to dismiss the suit.
Adam Peoples, attorney for the three officers declined to comment Nov. 9.
In an Aug. 28 filing, the three officers said any negligence in the shooting was by superior officers.
In her own response also filed that day, Neadeau said she and other tribal officers not directly involved in the shooting were acting “without malice and with good faith belief that their duties were carried out in accordance with all relevant laws and statutes, and as such, are protected by the Doctrine of Public Officials immunity as well as qualified immunity.”
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Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He’s written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess at firstname.lastname@example.org, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.