A Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputy “believing his life to be in danger” fired his AR-15 rifle at a car June 16, 2017, and struck the front windshield of the car 11 times, according to the district attorney’s review of the evidence.
The car driving toward him on Coker Road had seven people inside, including children, and were victims of a reported home invasion. The driver believed the lights from the deputies’ vehicles belonged to the invaders.
No one was shot in the incident and there were no serious injuries.
Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh sent a letter to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation regarding his findings in the officer-involved shooting. He ultimately ruled Sgt. Patrick Tolan “bears no criminal responsibility in his discharging a firearm” and that there was not “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” in charging aggravated assault on the deputies.
Stewart McIntosh called 911 reporting a home invasion robbery at his residence on Campbell Road in Gainesville.
“At the time of the call, he was in the woods with two of his minor children, Jordan McIntosh and Elijah McIntosh, having fled the home with them,” according to Darragh’s letter.
Jennifer Harris, Justin Castillo and five others were in the residence. Castillo took a gun with him, which Darragh noted “it is unknown whether leaving the residence was for the purpose of avoiding a potential return by the home invaders, or to seek revenge on them.”
Harris previously told The Times she and her family members were at her Campbell Road home when she heard a knock on the door. Two men with concealed faces entered with guns, taking her cellphone and $10, she said.
“When they come in with an assault rifle or shotgun, we’re not sure which one, (McIntosh) runs out of the home, grabs two kids and runs into the woods (and) calls 911,” Harris’ attorney Timothy McCalep said a week after the incident. “The rest of the family is in the house. They’re being held at gunpoint.”
McCalep did not return a call for comment this week.
After the invaders left, Harris said she was trying to find McIntosh, get the family to a safer location and get to a better service area to use their phone. Seven people piled into an Audi passenger car, and Harris said she was trying to get to a house three doors down.
Several sheriff’s office deputies parked on Coker Road and ordered Harris to stop. Harris’ son reportedly told her not to stop “because he believed the lights in the roadway from the deputies’ vehicles belonged to the home invaders,” according to Darragh’s review.
“Whether Jennifer Harris should have known or did know the people in the roadway were in fact police officers is unclear from the evidence,” Darragh wrote.
After Tolan shot his AR-15 rifle, Jennifer Harris and a child were injured “as a result of the gunfire” but were not directly shot.
Darragh wrote Castillo fired a .25 caliber revolver three times out of the driver’s side rear window toward the officers, though Darragh noted it was not clear if Castillo knew they were deputies.
“During the exchange of gunfire, Deputy James Brown was struck by projectile fragments or debris caused by the gunfire, but was not injured in any significant way,” Darragh wrote.
Harris suffered a broken hand and facial lacerations when the Audi crashed, and a 7-year-old had a hand injury from flying debris.
According to his account, Castillo had gloves on and threw the handgun into the woods.
“These facts lend some credence to a theory that Justin may have left the house to seek revenge on the allegedly unknown invaders,” according to Darragh’s review.
Darragh wrote Tolan’s actions were “clearly justified,” but the district attorney wrote Harris’ and Castillo’s motivations “are less clear.”
“Nonetheless, the state would not likely be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any criminal charges against them for aggravated assault on the deputies involved,” Darragh wrote.
In November, McCalep and the family filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging excessive force.
Bill Blalock, the attorney representing Brown and Tolan, said he has filed a motion for summary judgment to have the case dismissed against the deputies. The decision is pending.
“When law enforcement officers make the split-second decision to fire a service weapon in the line of duty, it’s always a difficult one,” Sheriff Gerald Couch said. “The men and women who join our ranks take that burden seriously and are trained to bear it. Such was the case on Thursday, June 15, 2017. To begin with, I am very much appreciative of the extensive investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the thorough review of the evidence in the case by Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh. As outlined in Mr. Darragh’s recent assessment of the incident, our (sergeant) was patently warranted in the actions he took that difficult night.”
Couch added he was thankful that the injuries were not life-threatening for all people involved, but the sheriff declined to comment further citing pending litigation.