WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Neither of the two Wilmington police officers involved in the shooting death of a woman earlier this year will be charged with a crime, according to New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David.
The announcement Friday came after the completion of an independent investigation from the State Bureau of Investigation. Grace Louise Denk, 21, was shot and killed after officers responded to a domestic dispute call in January.
David said Denk's boyfriend called authorities to say Denk was threatening to kill herself, was intoxicated, and could have a gun. He said the two had an argument and she had driven off.
While officers were searching for Denk's car, District Attorney Ben David said she continued texting her boyfriend threatening to kill herself at 2 a.m. He said she was sending texts counting down until that time.
Information released from authorities Friday indicated that Denk had a history of suicidal tendencies. That information showed she searched the web for information about shooting distances and the use of gun scopes minutes before the fatal shooting.
Officer Ian Lovell first located Denk. Lovell said she was sitting in the driver's seat of her car with a gun. The District Attorney said witnesses reported Officer Lovell asked Denk about 10 times to put the gun down. Seconds later Officer Brandon McInerney arrived on the scene.
According to Ben David, the officers were about to break the back window when David said Denk raised a gun at Officer Lovell. Lovell reportedly said "don't do it" then fired four times into the car. Denk reportedly fired once hitting the ceiling of the car.
Wilmington Police Chief, Ralph Evangelous, said the officers could not afford to wait to approach her because it was nearing 2 a.m., the time when she was threatening to end her life. The officers first got to her around 1:42 a.m.
"The clock was ticking. She was not responding," Evangelous said. "She was almost in a trance, he [Officer Lovell] was trying to get her attention and get eye-contact or just an interaction. There was never an interaction until she turned and looked and raised the gun," Evangelous continued.
"Officers Lovell and McInerney did not have the luxury of standing down and waiting for calm to prevail," said District Attorney Ben David in a statement. "Before them was a person counting down the minutes she had left on earth. When Officer Lovell witnessed Ms. Denk suddenly raise the gun up from her lap towards him and his partner with her hand on the trigger, his use of deadly force was fully supported by the law,"David said.
Katy Parker, the attorney for Denk's family, said Grace's family is devastated. She said both she and the family believe more could have been done. "Nobody tried to call her on her cell phone, Officer Lovell could have tried talking to her away from the car, but instead he went right up to the car and started kicking it. If someone is upset and on edge it seems like that would make it worse," Parker said.
She said she understands David's decision, but believes there could be civil charges and said the family is considering suing the Wilmington Police Department.
Parker also said the shooting sheds light on the fact that all law enforcement officers need to go through Crisis Intervention Training. The WPD stated that neither officer involved in the shooting had gone through the training.
"If there had been training, I just believe things could have been different and that Grace would be alive," Parker said. "Maybe that's not the case, but it would be a lot of solace for the family to know that they did everything they could."
Chief Evangelous said currently 52 officers in the department have gone through Crisis Intervention Training. He said he wants all officers to go through it, but he said there are limited spots available. He said he started speaking with Coastal Care, the agency that trains officers, after the officer involved shooting that killed Keith Vidal. He said he is trying to create more space for WPD officers. He would like to get 50 officers trained a year.
Chief Evangelous also said that they are partnering with the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office to make sure a crisis intervention trained officer is on duty at all times.
David says Denk, a former Marine, was conscious when she went to the hospital, but later died from her injuries. An autopsy revealed she sustained wounds to her left arm and upper chest.
David says the two officers involved in the shooting, Lovell and McInerney, should be able to return to work when they are able to do so.
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