Buncombe deputies 'completely justified' in March courthouse shooting official says

Brian Gordon Asheville Citizen Times Published 3:29 PM EDT May 12, 2020 Two Buncombe County deputies were declared "completely justified" for firing at an armed gunman outside the Buncombe County Courthouse in late March.

The gunman, Shane Tilman Kent, 29, was killed on the scene. District Attorney Greg Newman announced that Scott Robinson and Todd Ernst acted properly when they shot at Kent on March 31. Newman recommended both deputies be cleared for active service.  

"There is absolutely no violation of North Carolina law by these officers and I commend Ernst and Robinson, and the many other Buncombe County deputies and Asheville Police officers, for bringing this significant threat to public safety to a successful conclusion," Newman said in a May 12 press release. "It is unfortunate when our law enforcement officers must use force to restore order, but in this situation, no other choice was available." More: Police identify suspected Buncombe courthouse shooter More: Suspected shooter at Buncombe courthouse has been killed, officials say

Shooting outside courthouse

According to Newman, Kent, from within a parked pickup truck, fired multiple bullets toward probation officer Jamie Harris on the morning of March 31.

A group of Buncombe County Sheriff's deputies and Asheville Police officers then encircled the vehicle. Newman said video footage and multiple witnesses confirmed that officers shouted for Kent to "show his hands." Newman said officers than attempted to enter the vehicle to apprehend Kent by force. "Kent still had possession of the gun, which was a 9 mm handgun, and he attempted to point the weapon at police as they struggled to arrest him." Newman said.

"When the gun became visible to the officers, deputies Ernst and Robinson fired at Kent from both the front of the vehicle and the passenger side of the cab."

No courthouse employees or bystanders were injured in the shooting. A sheriff's deputy, Lt. Dale Den Ouden, received a non-life threatening injury to his arm.

He was treated for his injury and released from Mission hospital. Ouden had served with the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office for more than 26 years. Newman did not offer potential motivations for Kent's actions.

He did say that coronavirus, in this particular incident, may have helped save lives. "It is important to note that if this was a 'regular' day, in other words pre-coronavirus, there would have been hundreds of people in this area," he wrote. "I have no doubt that others may have died."   More: Witnesses describe scene of Buncombe courthouse shooting

Newman's investigation

Newman, the district attorney for Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties, reviewed this case for Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams, who saw the incident outside the courthouse and was a potential witness. 

Before reaching his conclusion regarding Ernst and Robinson, Newman said he met with the NC State Bureau of Investigation agents assigned to investigate the shooting and reviewed their interviews and video recordings. The SBI, according to Newman, found that Kent shot the 9 mm pistol 10 times and still had additional rounds in his gun at the time of his death.  Brian Gordon is the education and social issues reporter for the Citizen Times.

He's won awards for stories on schools and guinea pigs.

Reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @briansamuel92.

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