A Shooting by an Off-Duty Officer, Witness Counterclaims and a Black Man Killed in Broad Daylight: What Happened to Jason Walker?

Rachel Sharp / The Independent
A Shooting by an Off-Duty Officer, Witness Counterclaims and a Black Man Killed in Broad Daylight: What Happened to Jason Walker? Protesters hold signs with a photo of Jason Walker during a demonstration in front of the Fayetteville Police Department. (photo: AFP)

North Carolina community demands answers as Black man is shot dead and the white off-duty police officer who pulled the trigger still walks free four days later, writes Rachel Sharp

As a single father to a teenage boy, friends say Jason Walker had recently been “celebrating life” after he had just been hired for two new jobs.

Then, on Saturday afternoon, the Black 37-year-old was gunned down in broad daylight just 100 yards from his home in a neighbourhood in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

His teenage son was inside their home with Mr Walker’s parents at the time.

And the man alleged to have pulled the trigger?

A white off-duty police officer.

In the four days since Mr Walker’s death, protesters have gathered in the local community demanding answers as the version of events from the law enforcement officer and from eyewitnesses don’t match up.

Cumberland County Deputy Sheriff Jeffrey Hash shot and killed Mr Walker just after 2.15pm on Saturday afternoon in the residential area around Bingham Drive and Shenandoah Drive.

Deputy Hash claimed Mr Walker jumped on his car, ripped off the windscreen wipers and began smashing the windscreen as he was driving through the area with his wife and daughter.

In a 911 call from the scene, the deputy, who has worked with the sheriff’s office for more than 16 years, is heard saying he “just had to shoot him”.

However, this version of events is disputed by both a trauma nurse who witnessed what happened and by Mr Walker’s grieving family.

Elizabeth Ricks, who administered medical aid to the dying man at the scene, said Mr Walker was simply crossing the street when the off-duty officer struck him with his vehicle, before shooting him dead.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the victim’s family, said Mr Walker was “shot in the back as he tried to return home”, before dying in the road.

Now, four days on from the killing, Deputy Hash is still walking free.

He was not arrested at the scene and has not been fired from his role as a law enforcement officer.

Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office said he has been placed on administrative leave while an investigation is under way.

Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins has defended the failure to arrest the officer, saying that “evidence is still being collected” in the case, while protesters have taken to the streets of Fayetteville for three nights running, calling for justice over what is the latest in a long line of law enforcement killings of Black people in America.

Here’s everything we know so far:

The shooting

Fayetteville police said that, according to a preliminary investigation, the shooting unfolded when Mr Walker “ran into traffic and jumped on [the] moving vehicle” being driven by the deputy, according to a statement.

“The driver of the vehicle shot [Mr Walker] and notified 911.”

Authorities have not confirmed how many times Mr Walker was shot or where he was struck by bullets.

Bystanders reported hearing four gunshots ring out and Mr Walker’s family said he was shot twice in the back.

Chief Hawkins said in a press conference on Sunday that the black box from the deputy’s truck, which is his personal vehicle, showed that the vehicle “did not impact anything or anyone”.

She said that a windshield wiper had been torn off the vehicle and used to smash the windshield in several places.

The police chief also added that the only witness to what happened told investigators Mr Walker was not hit by the truck.

“We currently have no witnesses who claim that anyone was hit by this truck,” she said.

Yet, the official line from the police department contradicts comments made by Ms Ricks, the trauma nurse who said she saw the incident unfold.

Ms Ricks addressed a crowd of protesters on Sunday, where she told them she saw the Black man being hit by the vehicle as he tried to cross the road.

She toldWRAL News she “did not see anyone in distress” before the shooting.

“The man was just walking home,” she said.

“It breaks my heart he didn’t survive and I’m trying to cope with that as well. I don’t want to take away from Jason or the injustice and I’m not going to be silent.”

Smartphone footage of the aftermath of the shooting, posted on social media, shows a man, later identified as Deputy Hash, stood by his truck calling 911.

Mr Walker is lying on the ground close to the rear wheels of the car.

A woman, identified as Ms Ricks, is seen crouching over him appearing to give medical aid.

Deputy Hash is heard telling the dispatcher that “people are hostile right now”, to which a man across the street replies: “Nobody is hostile. Don’t you f***ing say that.”

Ms Ricks is heard saying: “I don’t know where the entry point is. He won’t tell me where he shot him.”

The off-duty officer is not seen attempting to administer medical aid to Mr Walker.

When two officers arrive on the scene, they do not ask the off-duty officer for his weapon.

One of the officers briefly crouches down toward Mr Walker.

The police chief later said that the officers did not step in to save the Black man because the trauma nurse was providing him aid.

Emergency responders are then seen arriving on the scene and taking over.

“I’m going to protect my wife and child,” the deputy tells the officers in the footage.

The 911 call

It was Deputy Hash who called 911 to report the incident after shooting Mr Walker dead.

On Tuesday, authorities released the 911 call.

In it, the officer is heard telling the dispatcher: “I had a male jump on my vehicle and break my windshield. I just shot him.”

He adds: “He jumped on my vehicle. I just had to shoot him.”

The deputy says the man “came flying across Bingham Drive running” so he “stopped so I wouldn’t hit him and he jumped on my car and started screaming, pulled my windshield wipers off, and started beating my windshield and broke my windshield.”

Later in the call a voice, believed to be that of Ms Ricks, is heard asking where on Mr Walker’s body he had shot him.

“Where did you shoot him?” she asks.

The deputy responds: “I don’t know. He was on the front of my vehicle, he jumped on my car.”

The woman replies: “I don’t care about that! Where is the entry point?”

“I do not know,” replies the deputy.

The dispatcher tells Deputy Hash not to “engage with them, just talk to me”.

The aftermath

Two days after the fatal shooting, Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office finally revealed the identity of the deputy involved.

The office said that Deputy Hash had been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.

“Deputy Hash has served with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office since 2005 and is currently assigned as a Lieutenant in the Civil Section,” the statement, on Monday, read.

“Our sincere condolences go out to Jason Walker’s family.”

There is no indication that Deputy Hash and Mr Walker knew each other prior to Saturday’s shooting.

Chief Hawkins said that Deputy Hash was taken into custody from the scene and his statement taken, but that he was not arrested.

The firearm used in the shooting was also taken by investigators and was not the deputy’s service weapon, according to the police chief.

As of Wednesday morning, the deputy has not been arrested.

Questions have been mounting over the treatment of the officer and why he has not been arrested or charged.

Chief Hawkins defended the law enforcement response in an interview with CBS17.

“Often individuals are not arrested immediately without, with lack of evidence, so right now evidence is being collected by the State Bureau of Investigation to determine that,” she said.

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation has taken over the investigation at the request of the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office in order to prevent conflict of interest.

The FBI is also reviewing the case to see if there were any civil rights violations.

City council members voted for the US Department of Justice to get involved in the case in a meeting on Monday night.

Meanwhile, the community is demanding answers with protests held every night since Sunday in the city.

Mr Walker’s cousin Brittany Monroe told WRAL the 37-year-old was her “best friend” and that the account from the deputy doesn’t match the person she knew.

“I don’t understand how it could happen to him. He would do anything for anybody,” she said.

Mr Crump said in a statement that Mr Walker’s death was a “case of ‘shoot first, ask later,’ philosophy seen all too often within law enforcement”.

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