WALLACE, N.C. (WNCT) — District Attorney Ernie Lee said in a Friday morning press conference that the officer-involved shooting of a Wallace man in February was justified.
The man, James Lanier, was shot and killed outside the Express Mini Market at 814 N. Norwood St. around 11 p.m. on Feb. 24. He was naked and disturbing customers at the time, the store owner said at the time of the incident.
Police Chief James “Jimmy” Crayton contacted the SBI and requested the investigation, which is protocol, according to the Facebook post. The officer involved, who has not been identified, was placed on paid leave during the investigation.
“My heart is broken for the Lanier family,” Crayton said in Friday’s press conference. “My heart is broken for our officer and his family and my heartbreaks for our community.”
Raw video: Ernie Lee press conference
Lee said officers with the Wallace Police Department responded and, according to video surveillance, Lanier pushed the officer and continued to move closer after being repeatedly told to back off. The officer tased Lanier but it appeared to have no impact on him.
“The officer could repeatedly be heard yelling at Lanier to ‘back up, back up back up’,” Lee said.
Lanier continued to advance the officer and three shots were fired, one of which hit Lanier.
“As tragic as this incident is with the loss of life, there is no evidence the officer who fired the fatal shot acted in any manner that is inconsistent with the threat he perceived,” Lee said. “And certainly no evidence the officer acted in any way contrary or in violation of the North Carolina law.”
Following the shooting, the officer assisted with first aid and CPR, even inside the ambulance continuously telling him to ‘keep breathing, keep breathing, keep breathing’ according to body camera footage.
Crayton confirmed this was not the first encounter with Lanier.
“I understand there have been times in our country where law enforcement has used excessive force and taken the lives of people unjustly. This is not one of those situations,” Crayton said.
During Friday morning’s press conference, several family members exchanged words with Lee and a debate ensued about his findings. That went on for several minutes at the end of Lee announcing his report.
When asked if the family believes race had any part in Lanier’s fate, his father, James Lanier, said, “Yes, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yes, I do. I don’t understand why or how they shot my son.”
The State Bureau of Investigation had recently completed its part and provided the information to Lee, which led to Friday’s announcement of his findings.
An NAACP press release issued shortly after the shooting said, “(Lanier’s) death has left more questions than answers, and the family, along with the Duplin County Branch of the NAACP are looking forward to hearing more answers from the local authorities.”