The family wants answers after the coffin bearer was killed by the officers

The family wants answers after the coffin bearer was killed by the officers

The family wants answers after the coffin bearer was killed by the officers

Coffin bearer killed (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Coffin bearer killed (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Jason Arnie Owens helped carry his father’s coffin to the hearse, then turned to hug a relative. He never made it to the cemetery.

As mourners gathered outside a funeral home in northern West Virginia on Aug.24, two plainclothes officers with a fugitive warrant swooped in from separate vehicles, called Owens’s name, and got him. shot to death, smearing his 18-year-old son’s shirt with blood horrified loved ones watched.

“There was no warning,” said family friend Cassandra Whitecotton.

In the blink of an eye, stunned friends and family already grieving one member have lost another. Now they want answers, not just because Owens was hit, but because the meeting happened that way.

Law enforcement is not explaining much right now, citing an ongoing investigation. Owens, 37, was wanted on a fugitive warrant, but the US Marshals Service did not say what he was for. The agency also claimed in a statement that he had a gun when members of a fugitive task force approached. Several witnesses argue that this is not true.

Whitecotton and others standing within walking distance said Owens was unarmed, hugged his aunt, Evelyn O’Dell, and was fired soon after his name was called. Witnesses also contest the US Marshal’s claim that first aid was delivered immediately, prior to the arrival of emergency medical services.

“They yelled Jason’s name. They just said ‘Jason’ and then they started shooting,” Whitecotton said. give any help whatsoever “.

As relatives prepared for Friday’s services for Owens, a state police investigation into the shooting was underway. But the patience in the community is running out.

Relatives and supporters protested outside Harrison County Courthouse last week, accusing law enforcement of overdoing the death of Owens, who was white. A Facebook page called Justice for Jason Owens has grown to around 800 members, more than half the population of Nutter Fort, where Owens was killed.

Underlying the unanswered questions is whether any boundaries of decency were crossed in the arrest of a man while he was burying his father.

“If they’re looking for someone and they finally figure out where they are, they’ll get him,” said Tracy L. Hahn, a security consultant based in Columbus, Ohio, who retired after 32 years in law enforcement, including as Deputy Chief of Police at Ohio State University.

Hahn said he knew the agencies that went to the funeral but waited until later to approach the person.

“There must be some extenuating circumstance that they felt the urge to arrest him instead of waiting, if there was any risk factor, a risk of escape or something,” Hahn said.

Family members aren’t so sure. They say it only adds to their sense of disrespect that the agencies involved don’t feel compelled to answer their questions.

“We want to know why you would do it in front of his family,” said Owens’ cousin Mandy Swiger. “And what gives you the right to do it to an unarmed man?”

Interim United States Marshal Terry Moore said he could not answer questions during the investigation and messages left to the state police were not returned.

It is unclear whether there are videos from police body cameras, the dashboard of a police vehicle, or from the funeral home itself. Unlike major cities where detailed incident reports and video footage are released after deadly police shootings, sometimes within hours, which rarely occur in West Virginia.

West Virginia law exempts police from releasing footage during an investigation. And the office of the US Marshals Service said it did not write a detailed report on the shooting incident, referring to the press release hiding Owens’ name and other details.

Owens had already had problems with the law. He was sentenced in 2018 to three to 13 years in prison for escaping from the Harrison County Deputy Sheriff and attempting to strangle him in a fight. He was released on probation in April 2021.

But Swiger said he committed a probation violation “for not registering once. And that’s why he promised his mother after the funeral that he would be constituted. “

Whitecotton said he was smoking a cigarette after the service when an SUV flew up the side street where the hearse would exit.

“It hit me, so I jumped back onto the sidewalk and looked at it like, ‘What’s your problem?'” He said. A man in shorts and a T-shirt jumped out, leaving the door open.

Swiger said a white truck with another plainclothes officer inside nearly hit his mother’s vehicle as the truck raced into the parking lot. Swiger said Owens was hit from several directions and estimated there were up to 40 people in the area. She also said she didn’t see a gun in Owens’ hands.

Some mourners instinctively rushed to Owens after he fell to the ground, Swiger said, but one of the officers told him, “Step back or I’ll shoot you.”

Whitecotton said he lived in much larger cities like Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth.

“Never in my life have I dealt with anything like this,” he said. “I would expect it there, honestly. But not here.”

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