Every night since last week’s shooting, Jennifer Harris said she has nightmares of bullets coming at her “for no reason.”
“I feel like for the rest of my life, for the rest of those kids’ lives, they’re going to be terrified,” the 37-year-old Gainesville woman said Wednesday.
Harris and the family’s attorney, Timothy McCalep, on Wednesday told their version of an officer-involved shooting following a home invasion around midnight Thursday in East Hall County.
No charges were filed as of Wednesday afternoon, and little information has been released by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office or the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
“First and foremost, I understand the public’s desire and their right to know exactly what happened regarding the officer-involved shooting case last week,” Sheriff Gerald Couch wrote in an email statement. “Recently some of the parties involved in the incident have sought out media outlets in an effort to promote their version of events, even before the GBI’s investigation is complete. While we would like nothing more than to provide full details on the case, the most important thing to keep in mind is that we must respect the investigative process. This is an active investigation which can be adversely affected by the premature release of case sensitive information.”
Couch said the Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office will have a full review following the GBI investigation.
“All of the deputies involved in the case have been returned to active duty,” Couch said in the statement.
Sheriff’s Office Deputy Stephen Wilbanks said there is no set timeframe regarding leave after an officer-involved shooting. He said a confidential counselor performs a professional assessment on the officer’s ability to return to work, which is then forwarded to the command staff.
“In this case, Sgt. (Patrick) Tolan was returned to full duty as soon as all those steps were completed,” Wilbanks said.
According to the GBI, Tolan was the officer involved in the shooting.
Harris said she, her fiance Stewart McIntosh and family members were at her Campbell Road home around 11:30 p.m. Thursday 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,” McCalep said. “The rest of the family is in the house. They’re being held at gunpoint.”
After the intruders 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.
“When I see a barreled gun and flashlights coming toward my car, I had stopped to look at first to see who it was. I still couldn’t see. It was pitch dark. All I’ve seen was those bright lights in my face,” Harris said.
According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Tolan and Sgt. James Brown were approaching the home around midnight Thursday regarding the home invasion report.
“One child in the back says, ‘Mom, it’s the same people. We gotta go.’ So she steps on the gas, and they immediately open fire on the car,” McCalep claimed.
Harris said she saw police cars in the distance and was trying to reach them. She said her cousin Justin Castillo, 18, of Gainesville, fired a gun.
McCalep said Castillo’s shots were in the air.
“He did fire back, absolutely, but he only fired back after I had ran off the road and gotten back onto the road,” Harris said.
Wilbanks said Brown’s ballistic vest stopped a bullet to the torso, and another bullet grazed his head. He was treated at a hospital and released.
Harris said she was shot multiple times, and her arm was in a wrap Wednesday morning. Isiah McIntosh, 7, was injured in his hand, but it will regain most of its function, Harris said.
Castillo suffered a back injury, Harris said.
As the car rolled to a stop, Harris said she was concentrating on her own breathing.
“I told the kids get out and scream for help, because there had to be police in the area because the cars were right there,” she said.
Wilbanks said the department could not comment on the veracity of any part of Harris’ version of events.
On Wednesday morning, Harris and her attorney appeared for a Juvenile Court removal hearing for one of her children.
“After the incident, law enforcement reviewed video surveillance and observed the mother and Mr. McIntosh removing illegal drugs from the refrigerator and hiding them before law enforcement arrived,” according to the removal order.
Harris and McCalep denied that, with McCalep calling it a “fabrication.”