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Graham County deputy cleared of wrongdoing

Graham County deputy cleared of wrongdoing

A Graham County sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot a Tennessee man on June 20 has been cleared of any wrongdoing, District Attorney Ashley Hornsby Welch said today.

Deputy Courtney Heaton shot and killed Mickey Ray Rice, 31, of Dickson, Tennessee, after he brandished what she reasonably believed to be a real gun, later identified as a fake gun.

“Heaton was justified in the use of deadly force as it was her actual and reasonable belief that the application of such force was necessary to defend herself and others from imminent harm,” said Welch, citing portions of N.C. General Statute 15A-401(d)(1)(a) and (d)(2). 

During a traffic stop in Robbinsville for a minor traffic infraction, Rice fled from law enforcement. A chase ensued, with the suspect driving at excessive rates of speed and crossing double-yellow lines.

His reckless driving placed others in possible danger.

The chase ended at the end of Anderson Creek Road. Once the suspect finally came to a stop, he refused to obey repeated law-enforcement commands to step out of the vehicle and put his hands up.

“After careful review of the SBI investigative file, the relevant statutes and case law, I have determined that there is no evidence of criminal misconduct by Officer Heaton and that the use of force was lawful and justified,” the district attorney said.

Prior to reaching her decision, Welch reviewed witness statements, interviews, photographs, surveillance video, use-of-force policies, CAD report, Officer Heaton’s law-enforcement records, relevant criminal-and-driving histories, crime-scene investigation report, body camera, dash camera and supporting handwritten notes, emails and text messages.  

Earlier this month, Welch met with the family and explained her decision. She allowed members of the family to watch dash-cam video of the pursuit and fatal confrontation.

“I sincerely offer my condolences to the family of Mr. Rice,” she said. “I know they are grieving the loss of a loved one.”

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