No charges filed in Yonder Hill shootings
The man shot in a pre-dawn raid by police looking for suspects who had been taking pot shots at vehicles on Interstate 64 will not be charged, nor will the Albemarle County police officer who shot him, Commonwealth's Attorney Denise Lunsford announced June 19.
Virginia State Police concluded their investigation of the raid on Yonder Hill Farm in Crozet, where Slade Woodson, 19, was arrested for a March 27 shooting rampage that stretched from I-64 and western Albemarle to Waynesboro.
At approximately 4:38am March 28, State Police and Albemarle tactical units served a warrant at the farm off Lanetown Road, and farm manager Edgar Dawson was shot by Albemarle Officer Michael Easton.
Lunsford issued a release in which she contends that members of both teams identified themselves multiple times before entering the house and again as they entered. Once inside, Easton encountered Dawson holding a "large silver revolver with the gun extended in front of his body," according to the release.
"Dawson did not lower or release his gun or retreat in any way despite repeated direction from the tactical team. Fearing that Dawson was going to discharge his gun, Officer Easton shot Dawson two times, and Dawson's gun also discharged," the release adds.
"We take issue with some of the claims [in the release]," says Dawson's lawyer, Alexandria-based John Zwerling. "The perceptions of people who were sleeping are different. If [police] announced who they were, it wasn't done in a way that made it to the people who were sleeping in their bedroom."
And that's where Dawson was shot, says Zwerling.
"He got up and got his gun because he didn't know who it was," says Zwerling. "He was standing beside his bed. He never raised it, but he got shot. It happened in a split second."
In a June 19 letter to Virginia State Police, Lunsford says Dawson "appeared in a doorway" and then notes that after he was shot, he "fell onto the bed."
This was the first public announcement that Dawson's gun had fired, and apparently it discharged after he had been shot. "I believe so," says Lunsford. "It's unclear."
The bullet from Dawson's gun struck the door jam in a downward motion, she says, and went into the floor on Easton's side of the door. Lunsford sees two scenarios for the discharge of Dawson's gun.
"From my perspective, one, he was there intending to fire, and the officer shot first, or two, it was involuntary," i.e. after he'd been shot in the arm. In either case, she surmises that Dawson's finger was on the trigger.
Zwerling contends that Dawson did not intend to fire. "He wouldn't have fired at the floor," says Zwerling. "We think when the shot hit his arm, it went off."
Wounded in the chest and in the arm, Dawson, who works as a mechanic, was taken to UVA Medical Center and is still recovering from nerve damage in his hand. "His right hand was permanently damaged," says Zwerling. "He has feeling in his thumb and index finger. The other three are numb, and he can't hold a wrench."
This is the first case for Lunsford that involves a shooting by a cop. She decided not to press charges against Officer Easton because, she explains, "He was legally there executing a search warrant, and a man was pointing a gun at him in his doorway."
As for charging Dawson, Lunsord considered "what a judge or a reasonable person on a jury might think," she says. "It was 4:30am, he was asleep in his house, there was a lot of noise and commotion, and he was not sure what was going on."
Albemarle police wore uniforms and vests with cloth badges and the word "Police" written in large letters on the chest. Easton carried a shield that also said "Police," and when Dawson appeared, Easton held up the shield for protection, looking through the view box, according to the report. Two of the Dawsons' dogs were barking, police were shouting, "Police," "Search Warrant," and the house was dark except for illumination carried by the tactical teams.
And according to Zwerling, police were wearing gear similar to miners' lamps with high-intensity illumination. "Edgar would have been lit up and he couldn't see anything," says Zwerling.
LunsfordÂ¢Ã¢â??Â¬“ who became the county's top prosecutor in JanuaryÂ¢Ã¢â??Â¬“ declined to comment on Zwerling's disputation of official claims.
Zwerling commends Lunsford for not bringing charges. "This is a relief," he says. "Just because you didn't do anything wrong doesn't mean you can't be charged."
And he offers a suggestion for Albemarle police. "I think they ought to rethink rapid entry because of the danger to the innocentÂ¢Ã¢â??Â¬“ and that a person will react as Mr. Dawson did is predictable."
The mailbox at Yonder Hill Farm had been blown up a few months before the raid. "Someone is sleeping out in the country where there has been crime," says Zwerling. "Someone comes smashing into your house and you have your holster near your bed."
Adds the attorney, "He could have been killed."
-updated 9:42am, June 24