A former Concord police officer who shot a potential car thief four times in February, called in the incident to his department, then opened fire again, will not face criminal charges, the Cabarrus County district attorney has announced.
District Attorney Roxann Vaneekhoven said in a Wednesday statement that Officer Timothy Larson was legally justified when he fatally shot Brandon Combs in a Concord auto dealership on Feb. 13.
After a thorough review of the facts of this case, and the law that would apply to these facts, the evidence showed that Officer Timothy Larson did not use excessive force when he fired his weapon at a fully revved police SUV that was pointed at him a few feet way, that Brandon Combs was attempting to steal,”
Combs, 29, of Gastonia, was struck five times while he sat behind the wheel of Larson’s SUV. Combs had jumped into the vehicle after Larson had discovered him trying to steal a nearby pickup truck.
According to attorneys for Combs’ mother who have seen video of the incident, Larson first fired five shots through the windshield at the unarmed Combs, mortally wounding him.
The officer called in the shooting before firing another shot, the attorneys say.
According to documents received from a public records request by The Charlotte Observer to the City of Concord, Larson was fired May 20. He had been on the job for about two years when the shooting occurred.
In Larson’s termination letter, police Chief Gary Gacek cited his former officer for insubordination for refusing to answer questions following the shooting and for giving misleading or untrue answers in other instances to his superiors and the State Bureau of Investigation, which handled the shooting investigation. It’s unclear from the letter if the events surrounding the shooting were discussed.
In explaining her decision not to charge Larson, Vaneekhoven cited several factors:
▪ That Combs ignored multiple commands from Larson to get out of the pickup truck and failed to show his hands.
▪ That there was a police rifle in the SUV within Combs’ reach.
▪ That Combs had revved Larson’s vehicle just before the officer opened fire fearing he might be run over.
A June lawsuit filed by Combs’ mother contradicts the final point. It alleges that Larson opened fire while standing off the passenger side of the SUV, not 5 to 10 feet in front of it, as Vaneekhoven claims in her statement.
Also, when asked on the video why he had shot Combs, Larson replied that Combs was trying to steal his vehicle and did not mention concerns for his own safety, the lawsuit claims.
In reporting the incident, Concord police initially said the shooting had occurred following a “physical confrontation” at the Nissan dealership.
The attorneys for the family said Larson’s own video shows that no such confrontation occurred.
“Police officers cannot be judge, jury and executioner. That’s why we have a criminal justice system. That’s why we have the rule of law,” Atlanta attorney Harry Daniels said during a news conference in Charlotte that followed the filing of the federal complaint.
The lawsuit by Combs’ mother accuses Larson and the City of Concord of excessive force, assault and battery, wrongful and intentional death and gross negligence.
In North Carolina and every other state, police officers are justified in using deadly force if they have a reasonable belief that they, their fellow officers or the public is in imminent risk of death or serious injury.
The law is written around a landmark Supreme Court case, Graham v. Connorwhich originated in Charlotte.
Every year, police fatally shoot about 1,000 people, a number that has remained largely unchanged despite widespread police reforms following the deaths of George Floyd and others, according to the Washington Postwhich has tracked officer shootings for the past five years.
Vaneekhoven had received the findings of the SBI probe in June. Her Wednesday statement contains previously unreported details surrounding the shooting.
The entire fatal encounter lasted 90 seconds.
Under the Concord Police Department’s use of force policyofficers are banned from shooting into vehicles unless they or others are being targeted by “deadly physical force” other than a vehicle, or “the moving vehicle poses an imminent and ongoing threat of substantial physical harm to the officer or another person from which there is no reasonable means to escape.”
The US Supreme Court ruled in the 1985 case of Tennessee v. Garner that officers cannot use deadly force to stop a fleeing suspect unless they are placed in imminent danger.