District Attorney Tom Horner has announced his decision to exonerate Ashe County Sheriff’s Deputies Josh Hopkins, Jeremy Munday and Jake Howell in the Nov. 19, 2012 shooting death of Mark Houck of Laurel Springs.
In a letter sent to Ashe County Sheriff James Williams, West Jefferson Police Chief Jeff Rose and SBI Special Agent Paula Carson on Aug. 23, Horner concluded that “given the circumstances of the situation all above mentioned law enforcement officers found themselves in, the shooting was justified under the law.”
Horner wrote that he and Chief Assistant District Attorney Leigh Bricker had reviewed all the facts of the investigation, autopsy and toxicology reports in reaching their conclusion.
Horner praised the SBI for the “hard work and the extensive investigation” done by the agency.
Shortly after 11 p.m. Nov. 19, 2012, ACSO deputies Josh Hopkins and Jeremy Munday with West Jefferson Police Officer Jake Howell responded to a shots fired call on Gaither Poe Road, and found Houck at the scene armed with a high-powered rifle, according to an ACSO press release.
Deputy Jake Howell was employed by the West Jefferson Police Department at the time of the incident.
The officers identified themselves and ordered Houck to drop the rifle, according to the press release. Houck then allegedly pointed the rifle at the officers, who opened fire and killed him, according to the release.
The officers were placed on paid administrative leave for approximately one month after the shooting while the SBI completed its investigation, according to Williams.
Houck, 47, was shot nine times, according to an autopsy report submitted to the DA by the Wake Forest University School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology last month.
The autopsy determined Houck died of “multiple gunshot wounds of the chest, abdomen and extremities.”
Houck was found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.2 percent at time of death, according to the autopsy. He was also found to suffer from “moderate steatohepatitis” — known as fatty liver disease — and cirrhosis of the liver.
An drug screening of Houck requested by the DA earlier this month was submitted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Aug. 22.
The screening reported the presence three prescription medications in Houck’s blood: Lorazepam and Alprazolam, two sedatives used to treat anxiety disorders, and Hydrocodone, a narcotic pain reliever.
Williams, in a statement released today, expressed regret for “the grief and suffering this unfortunate incident has caused the Houck family.”
“Everyone, from me to those directly involved, has always been keenly aware of the loss suffered by the Houck family. They continue to be in our thoughts and prayers,” Williams wrote.
Williams’ statement detailed the events leading up to the Houck shooting.
“Officers arrived at the scene after being dispatched to a man shooting toward neighbor’s houses all afternoon — hours after darkness had fallen. They observed a man inside with a weapon, who had been shooting all afternoon in a closely populated community, who had shot up his own home, who had weapons and ammo stockpiled at the door,” Williams wrote.
“They observed Houck inside with a weapon. At that point they asked Houck to step outside to speak to them. Houck came out carrying a high powered rifle.
“Officers asked Houck to put down the weapon. Instead he pointed the high powered rifle at them. At that point, they had no choice but to defend themselves,” he wrote.
“It has been a long wait for the officers involved, as well as their families. I always had complete confidence in my deputies, and knew they had followed procedure, their training and judgment, and that they had no other choice in the matter,” he wrote.
“I had no doubt in the outcome of the investigation conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation. However, needless to say, it is always a relief for all when the facts support the judgment of those involved, and now it has been validated by (Horner) and his staff,” wrote Williams.