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Officers in Kloepfer shooting won’t face charges

Officers in Kloepfer shooting won’t face charges

special prosecutor tasked with examining the investigation into a 2022 police shooting that severely injured Jason Harley Kloepfer at his home in Cherokee County has concluded that no criminal charges are warranted against any of the officers involved. 

“I don’t even know the right words for how I feel. Disgusted, frustrated, anguished, beaten — it’s like I’m victimized for a second time now,” said Kloepfer, who said he moved to Cherokee County after being the victim of a separate shooting at his previous home in Las Vegas.

The police did an “outrageous” amount of illegal activity in the leadup to and aftermath of the shooting, Kloepfer said, and the special prosecutor’s decision proves the process is “crooked and corrupt.”  

“We think that the law enforcement involved committed many crimes and lied about our client and tried to set him up for prosecuting him when he committed no crimes,” said Ellis Boyle, an attorney representing Kloepfer in a civil case stemming from the shooting. “It’s a crying shame that this is what the justice system is in America.”

However, Kimberly Spahos, executive director of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, which appointed Special Prosecutor Lance Sigmon to review the case and determine whether to press charges, said the decision was based in legal reasoning.

“I cannot comment specifically on every statute Mr. Sigmon reviewed,” Spahos said. “However, he certainly reviewed the full investigation and made his decision based on a variety of case law and legal precedent.”

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According to the N.C. State Bar directory, Sigmon resides in Newton and has been admitted to the state bar since August 1988. A LinkedIn profile says he served as chief assistant district attorney in the 36th Prosecutorial District from 2015 until retiring in 2023.

“Thank God, we have a corresponding civil justice system, where my clients are still able to pursue their rights and hold these people accountable,” Boyle said. “Because obviously the criminal justice system has failed miserably, and these people are not only walking free, but they have the imprimatur of a quote unquote special prosecutor saying that he’s not going to hold them accountable.” 

The shooting

The shooting took place on Dec. 13, 2022, after a neighbor called 911 claiming she was concerned that Jason Harley Kloepfer, 41 at the time, had hurt his wife, Alison Mahler, and that she had heard him threaten the whole neighborhood. Citing a potential hostage situation, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office requested assistance from the Cherokee Indian Police Department’s SWAT team, which arrived in the early morning hours.

At least two rounds hit Kloepfer when three CIPD officers fired at him — as Mahler stood directly behind him — shortly before 5 a.m. One entered through his chest and lacerated his liver, cutting through his stomach and the lining of his heart, cracking his ribs and scattering shrapnel in his chest. A second struck just above his elbow, “blowing a tunnel through his flesh and muscle,” according to a lawsuit  he filed in June.

In the hours after the shooting, the CCSO said the officers fired after Kloepfer engaged in a “verbal altercation” with them and confronted him as he emerged from his camper trailer. He was charged with two misdemeanors as a result.

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Officers shot Jason Harley Kloepfer as he stood in the doorway of his camper trailer in the early morning hours of Dec. 13, 2022. Holly Kays photo

However, Kloepfer later released home security video that shows him coming to the door with his hands up, in compliance with police orders. Shots rang out seconds later. The charges against him were dropped  in the weeks following the video’s release.

In their responses to the complaint, the officers who fired claimed they did so because they believed the police robot Kloepfer held above his head in his right hand — a robot the police had sent inside to assess the scene — to be a gun. In the video, no commands to drop the weapon are heard before shots start ringing out. According to Kloepfer, no such commands were given. In court filings, the officers did not assert that they had given any such commands.

In June, Kloepfer and Mahler filed a lawsuit seeking millions in damages and claiming that the officers violated their constitutional rights before the first shot was even fired. The first deputies arrived at Kloepfer’s home at 11:17 p.m. Dec. 12, 2022, but did not find evidence of the emergency hostage situation to which they had been alerted, and they did not have a search warrant to fully investigate the premises. However, they remained on the property for hours, covering up Kloepfer’s outdoor surveillance cameras shortly after midnight, hours before a search warrant was finally issued at 2:14 a.m. The lawsuit claims this violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

The lawsuit, slated for trial in August 2025, names 29 defendants from both the EBCI and CCSO who together face more than 200 claims. However, following Sigmon’s decision, none of those defendants will be held criminally liable for their actions.

“The civil case is plowing ahead full steam,” Boyle said. “We are in discovery, and now is when the fun stuff happens. Now is when the truth is extracted, and eventually brought to the light to the public. Because apparently that’s not going to happen in the criminal justice system.”

Spahos said that Sigmon made his determination based on information gleaned from a “full criminal investigation” but allowed that “the State will always consider new information if it is provided and relevant.”

‘Losing everything’

In the meantime, Kloepfer said, he and Mahler are struggling to survive. He owns the property in Cherokee County outright, but they don’t feel safe living there anymore. Instead, they’re paying rent to live somewhere far away, relying on a GoFundMe page to help support them until they see a payout from the civil case.

“We are in dire, desperate need,” he said. “We do not even have two nickels to rub together anymore right now. We’re slowly losing everything.”

It’s not just the financial burden. The trauma continues to impact him, keeping him socially isolated and incapable of relaxation.

“Every time I start to fall asleep, this stuff comes up in my head and I’m back wide awake,” he said. “It’s like it happened two weeks ago. That’s the way my life is. I don’t associate with anybody anymore. I stay to myself because people don’t want to hear it all the time. I get it. They’ve got lives, it’s been a year. I don’t want to hear it in my head all the time — I can’t imagine somebody else that wasn’t involved.” 

It’s unfair, he said, especially when the cops he believes tried to set him up have been allowed to go about their business in the year-plus since the shooting. As of October, none of the Cherokee County officers named in the lawsuit had suffered any suspensions or demotions related to the shooting.

Adam Erickson, the first deputy dispatched to the scene, was suspended and then separated from the county in August 2023 following an unrelated arrest for driving under the influence. Cody Williams, who was the second officer dispatched to the scene, separated from the county in June 2023, while J.T. Gray, who is named in the lawsuit but wasn’t dispatched to the scene until hours after the shooting, separated in January 2023. Publicly available records don’t reflect whether those separations were voluntary or not, but no suspensions or demotions preceded them. Jason Hall, who is named in the lawsuit but wasn’t dispatched to the scene until hours after the shooting, was promoted to sergeant in August.

None of the 11 other CCSO employees named in the lawsuit have seen any change to their status other than a 2% cost-of-living raise in July. Their current salaries range from $40,200 to $94,100, the latter number being the salary for Sheriff Dustin Smith, whose term expires in December 2026. As an elected official, he is not subject to the same hire/fire policies as other employees.

Cherokee County is bound by state law to disclose the salary and employment status of its workers, but the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is not. The tribe has declined to offer information on the status of CIPD employees named in the lawsuit.

“There’s too much illegal activity on cell and audio that they’re not getting any charges or at the very least losing their jobs,” Kloepfer said. “I mean, nothing’s happened to them. This is crazy.”

Cameron Nieters and Jack Stewart, attornies in the civil suit representing EBCI defendants, declined an opportunity to comment. Attorneys for the CCSO defendants had not returned a request for comment as of press time.

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