Officers will not face charges

Published 5:57 am Thursday, March 20, 2003

By By SARAH HODGES, Staff Writer
WILLIAMSTON – District Attorney Seth Edwards of Washington announced Wednesday that no charges will be filed against two Martin County law enforcement officers involved in the shooting death of a Williamston man nearly one year ago.
Kidnapping suspect Tarik Rodgers, 26, of 306 E. Main St., Williamston, was shot and killed on April 15, 2002, during a standoff with law enforcement officers at the intersection of Roberson and West Main streets in Williamston.
"The actions of Williamston Police Officer William Waters and Martin County Deputy Walter Farrow, while regrettable, do not warrant criminal prosecution," Edwards said in a statement issued Wednesday morning.
"In North Carolina, one is permitted to use deadly force if he has a reasonable belief that the use of such force is necessary to protect himself from death or great bodily harm," Edwards added in the statement. "The State Bureau of Investigation report confirmed that the use of deadly force in this situation was reasonable and justified under the circumstances existing at that time."
Waters, Farrow and Scott MacFarland of the Roanoke-Chowan Drug Task Force were the first officers on the scene as a high-speed pursuit of Rodgers ended around 1:30 a.m.
Rodgers was being pursued by police after reportedly kidnapping his former girlfriend, Angela Freeman, at gunpoint from her home around 10 p.m. the previous night. Freeman was in the vehicle at the time of the shooting.
According to Edwards' statement regarding the April 15 chain of events, the officers exited their vehicles at the scene. As Rodgers moved out of his car, Waters released the department's police dog. A videotape that recorded law enforcement officers' actions that night confirmed Rodgers advanced towards Waters while brandishing a pistol. According to official accounts, Waters began backing away from Rodgers while drawing his weapon. Edwards said Waters fired the eight shots that killed Rodgers.
Edwards dispelled the accusations that have followed Waters and Farrow for nearly one year.
"For months, rumors have circulated that these officers shot an unarmed man, but the video clearly shows this to be false," he explained.
According to Edwards, the videotape from a dash-mounted camera in a vehicle at the scene recently was enhanced through technology available at the SBI lab in Raleigh. The district attorney acknowledged that the original video, made available to his predecessor, Mitchell Norton, did not show clearly a pistol in Rodgers' hand; however, in the enhanced video, the weapon plainly was visible. According to Edwards' statement, it "does not appear that Rodgers fired his gun."
The Williamston Police Department Use of Force Policy reads, "Officers shall use only that force that appears reasonably necessary to effectively bring an incident under control, while protecting the life of the officer or of another person."
Edwards said, "Prior to Rodgers' exiting his vehicle, the officers were aware of Rodgers' statements and his apparent state of mind. When Rodgers brandished a pistol within a few feet of Officer Waters and Deputy Farrow, they reacted by firing at Rodgers to defend themselves."
In an interview with the Daily News on the day of the shooting, Angela Freeman – the kidnapping victim – said Rodgers asked her to pull the trigger to kill him at one point after they had left her residence. When she refused, she added, "he said he would go back to my house to see how many police were there and provoke them to do it."
Freeman said she believed Rodgers kidnapped her for the purpose of killing her and then himself. The victim said she was held at gunpoint several times throughout the ordeal.
Through one of their attorneys – K. Jameson Lawrence of Lemoyne, Penn. – the Rodgers family members expressed their reaction on Wednesday to Edwards' decision.
"Mr. Rodgers said he had little comment," Lawrence told the Daily News in a telephone interview from his office. "But (the family members) were disappointed with the district attorney's decision."
Lawrence would not confirm whether the family intends to file a civil lawsuit, saying only, "They will leave legal options in the hands of their attorneys."
Williamston Police Chief Steve Smith said the members of his department are ready to move forward.
"The SBI has finished their investigation and the district attorney has reached a decision," Smith said. "The Rodgers family and the Williamston Police Department have suffered a lot over the past 11 months. All we can do now is put this unfortunate situation behind us."
Martin County Sheriff Keith Roach agreed.
"I wish the incidents of April 15 could have ended in a different way," Roach said. "Our thoughts and prayers have been with the Rodgers family as well as the officers from the beginning."
Waters and Farrow – who have been on administrative leave with pay since the incident – have been cleared officially to return to duty. Smith stated that Waters is expected to return soon.
According to Roach, Farrow remains off the job due to a medical condition that was diagnosed in June. Roach said Farrow will take vacation time or sick leave until doctors approve his return to the Sheriff's Office.
Edwards said he fully understands the strain this case has put on the people in the community and regrets the fact it took nearly one year to bring it to a close.
"I realize this case has created a great deal of tension in the community. I also realize that regardless of my decision, some people will be upset," he pointed out.
In closing, Edwards said, "My decision is based on the facts presented to me and the application of the law to those facts. The enhanced video, which was unavailable to Mr. Norton, clearly substantiates this decision. Since this occurred almost a year ago, my thoughts and prayers have been with the Rodgers family as well as the officers involved and their families. I regret for all concerned the lengthy delay in reaching a decision."