LUMBERTON — A Lumberton police officer on Monday was found not guilty of shooting at his 16-year-old neighbor and pointing a gun at the teenager’s mother and brother.
After the judge’s ruling, Officer Claudie Lowery and his family were quietly escorted from District Court by lawyer Arnold Locklear and then to the parking lot by law enforcement. A shocked Ruth Bostic Mitchell, joined by her sons Aaron Mitchell and 20-year-old Billy Mitchell, met with her family’s counsel immediately after Judge William Moore’s decision.
“How was that not guilty?” Ruth Mitchell said outside the courtroom.
On Monday, Lowery took the stand along with his father, two sheriff’s deputies, the director of Robeson County communications and Raheen Savannah, a friend of the Mitchells. The Mitchells, other deputies, a Duke Energy employee and Lumberton police Capt. Terry Parker testified on April 24 before the trial was recessed.
Lowery told the judge he was in his Pleasant Hope Road home in Fairmont on Jan. 13 when the lights went out momentarily and he heard a banging sound at his back door. Lowery got a handgun and a rifle and went out his front door, intending to sneak up on the intruder, whom he said he did not recognize.
The defense questioned the reliability of the Mitchells’ testimonies, which Locklear said “[reeked] with inconsistencies.” Locklear said Lowery did not intend to hit Aaron Mitchell when he fired his rifle and denied that he pointed a gun at Ruth and Billy Mitchell later that night.
District Attorney Johnson Britt accused Lowery of taking out his personal problems on the family, calling the claim that someone was trying to kick in his door a “convenient excuse.”
Lowery said when he got near the back of his house, he saw a black male run by within about 20 feet of him. The audio of Lowery’s subsequent call, as well as calls made by Ruth Mitchell, were played in court.
In a call placed by Lowery, he could be heard saying, “… You want to see a crazy [expletive] Lumbee? You about to see one, you about see one …,” before a 911 operator answered.
Sgt. Eric Gavaghan said the only signs of a forced entry was a smudge on Lowery’s power box. A deputy on April 24 testified that a seal on the power box had been broken.
Gavaghan said Lowery told him “he shot at the suspect” who ran by, but Gavaghan did not check Lowery’s gun to see how many bullets it held.
On the stand, Lowery admitted he had gathered the spent shells and disposed of them.
“I didn’t want to shoot the guy, I just wanted to stop him until law enforcement arrived,” Lowery said.
Britt questioned why Lowery would dispose of the shells “if he was truly in the right in what he was doing.”
While questioning Savannah, Locklear accused the Mitchells of coordinating their testimonies.
Savannah testified that after the lights went out, Billy Mitchell said he was “going to run” if he heard a noise. Locklear claimed this indicated that Billy Mitchell knew his brother was up to something. Savannah argued that the sound of gunshots is common on his street.
Savannah said he saw Lowery fire his gun again and come towards his house. Savannah locked the doors and stayed inside for about an hour, after which he and Billy Mitchell saw Ruth Mitchell on Lowery’s porch.
Lowery said he was inside on the phone with his father when he heard a loud banging on the door and thought the intruder had returned. He said when he got to the door and saw Ruth Mitchell, he put his gun in his waistband.
Lowery said Ruth Mitchell asked why he was shooting at Aaron Mitchell and he denied doing so. Ruth Mitchell had previously said she asked if he had shot at Aaron Mitchell and that he said yes.
Lowery said he asked the three to leave “countless times,” saying he was in fear for his life, a statement he repeated throughout his testimony.
Lowery said he did not think it was Aaron Mitchell who had tried to break in until Billy Mitchell said “his brother was the one messing with the power.”
Erich Hackney, an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office, testified that Lowery came to his office on Jan. 14 and that his account was inconsistent.
Lowery told Hackney that someone was tampering with his breaker box. He then said he went out on his porch and saw someone running from the house beside across the street.
“Later on in the interview he said ‘they tried to kick in my back door’ and that he went out the front door and around the side of the house at which time he said ‘I saw a young black male coming from my back door through my backyard across the road’…,” Hackney said.
On Feb. 24, after he was informed there would be no breaking and entering charges, Lowery took out warrants accusing the Mitchells and Savannah of trespassing on his property. He also reported that Aaron Mitchell had fired a gun in his direction on March 1 in the Mitchell’s backyard. Britt dismissed all of those charges on April 24, calling them “retaliatory.”