in Seven Devils
By Melanie Davis
The Seven Devils police officer involved in a fatal shooting on Jan. 9 has been cleared of any wrongdoing by Watauga County District Attorney Jerry Wilson.
The Watauga County Sheriff’s Office received a noise complaint alleging gunfire just after 10 p.m. at a residence on N.C. 105 near the Avery-Watauga county line. No deputies were in the area, and, as per procedure, a Seven Devils officer responded to the call as mutual aid.
Upon arrival, officer Jonathan Harris approached the home.
Police allege Walter Garland Steele, 37, answered the door holding a gun.
Statements from authorities at the time of the incident allege Harris instructed Steele to drop the weapon at least three times. The statement further reads that Steele then raised the weapon toward the officer. Harris then shot Steele twice.
Steele was airlifted to Johnson City Area Medical Center in Tennessee, where he died 12 days (Jan. 21) later from the abdominal wound.
Harris was placed on administrative leave for 12 days following the shooting. He had been with the Seven Devils department for approximately eight months.
The SBI was called in to investigate the death as a standard procedure for officer-involved shootings. The agency’s investigation was completed in July and forwarded to the district attorney’s office for final review.
A statement issued by Wilson on Friday says, “It is my opinion that the officer acted at all times in a legal and appropriate manner.”
“It is always a tragedy when someone dies under these circumstances,” he added. “It is also a tragedy that the officer, no matter how justified in his actions, will live the rest of his life with the memory of these events.”