D.A.: Officer-involved shooting justified

Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill speaks about the findings of the investigation into the police shooting of Edward Van McCrae during a Monday press conference at the Hall of Justice.

D.A.: Officer-involved shooting justified
September 13
08:59 2018

Family plans to pursue civil case

An investigation into the fatal police shooting of Edward Van McCrae found the officer acted lawfully in self-defense, but an attorney for his family said they disagree and plan to seek civil remedies.

Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill announced the conclusion to the investigation at the Hall of Justice on Monday afternoon during a press conference in which the body cam footage was shown to the press. The tape itself has not been released to the public except for the footage the media recorded of it playing on a projector screen during the conference.

Following current state law, the city plans to ask a court to release the tape to the public. 

Winston-Salem Police Officer D.E. McGuire fatally shot McCrae, 60, during a struggle at a traffic stop in March. O’Neill said that the body cam footage, crime scene photos, autopsy report, witness statements and the parallel investigations of the Winston-Salem Police Department and State Bureau of Investigation led to the conclusion that McGuire acted in self-defense.

“All the evidence in this case indicates that Officer McGuire acted appropriately and lawfully,” said O’Neill.

The family’s attorney, John Vermitsky, said they appreciated the professionalism of the Winston-Salem Police Department (WSPD) and the District Attorney’s (D.A.) Office during the investigation, but were disappointed that probable cause to file charges against Officer McGuire was not found. He said the family was glad there was no violence in the streets because of the incidence and hoped that would continue. He said their concerns will be addressed in the civil system.

“I will let the members of the community know we have conducted our own investigation and we’ve talked to witnesses and we’ve looked at the facts and we’ve come to a different conclusion, but I would like to recall and remind everyone that there is a difference between the criminal and civil justice system and this matter should be dealt with in the civil justice system and should not be dealt with on the streets of Winston-Salem,” said Vermitsky.

The tape showed the events of the night of March 30, when McGuire pulled over a Toyota Camry he was riding behind on New Walkertown Road after a routine license check found it had expired tags and the car’s owner had an expired license.

The officer approached the vehicle on the passenger’s side with his flashlight out. He believed he saw McCrae transfer an object from his right hand to his left and believed he was concealing illegal drugs. McGuire questioned McCrae about it and McCrae turned his back to the officer. McGuire then instructed McCrae to get out of the vehicle and to stop reaching toward concealed areas of the car.

McGuire opened the door and pulled McCrae out, ordering him to get on the ground. McCrae struggled and resisted the officer. McGuire repeated for him to stop struggling and lost balance as both men fell to the ground. The struggle continued on the ground as McGuire yelled “Stop reaching!” at least six times as he tried to stop McCrae from drawing what he believed was a weapon from his pocket.

McCrae pulled a silver pistol out of his pocket, which fell to the ground and then McGuire yells “Gun! Gun!” At this point, the body cam has been dislodged by the struggle so the audio can be heard but only the ground is visible. O’Neill said that McCrae got up and looked for the gun and, despite McGuire yelling repeatedly not to reach for the gun, grabbed it with both hands.

McGuire then fired four times at McCrae, hitting him three times and killing him.

O’Neill showed a still of the gun on the ground from the video. He also showed the gun in the sewer grate – which he said was below McCrae – where investigators recovered it from. A convicted felon with a long list of priors, it was illegal for McCrae to have a gun.

Attorney David Freeman spoke on behalf of McGuire during the press conference.

“He appreciates the exoneration today but, make no mistake, he takes no joy in the actions of March of this past year,” he said. “He did what he had to do.”

Also during the conference, WSPD Chief Catrina Thompson said she was pleased with the outcome. She called it a “tragic challenge” for the city.

“We thank our citizens for their patience that’s been exercised for allowing the investigation process to occur,” she said.

Mayor Allen Joines and Bishop Todd Fulton with the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity both praised the transparency of the process.

City Council Member and Public Safety Chair James Taylor said he was not at the press conference to “declare guilt or innocence” for Mr. McCrae or McGuire and would need to see the tape again, since the conference was his first time viewing it. He felt the investigation was transparent and that the process of government was followed.

“Hopefully we can continue to work through this and move forward as a city,” said Taylor, who is also The Chronicle’s publisher.

Members of the McCrae family were in attendance and everyone who spoke offered condolences for their loss.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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