The three officers who were placed on administrative leave after being involved in the fatal shooting of Mark Houck on Nov. 19, have returned to work.
Deputy Joshua Hopkins and Deputy Jeremy Munday returned to the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 5, at the discretion of Ashe County Sheriff James Williams, and Officer Jake Howell returned to his post at the West Jefferson Police Department on Jan. 6, at the discretion of Police Chief Jeff Rose.
Deputy Brandon Howell from the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office also responded to the shots fired call but was not placed on administrative leave.
The incident happened when the four officers responded to a call about a man firing a gun off of his porch on Gaither Poe Road at 11 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 19. The man was later identified to be Mark Houck, 47, of the Laurel Springs community.
“The officers identified themselves, and ordered the man to put down his weapon. According to a press release issued after the shooting, Houck refused to comply, and began pointing the weapon at the officers. The officers fired their weapons, striking and killing the subject.”
Williams later said “shots were fired both ways.” He also said “placing officers on leave after a shooting is standard procedure.”
After the shooting, the ACSO requested an investigation by the SBI, according to Noelle Talley, the public information officer with the N.C. Department of Justice. The SBI has not released any information on the status of their investigation into the shooting.
“I do not know the status of the investigation. Only the SBI knows where it stands,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Carolyn Gentry.
However, the officers are permitted to return to work, even if the investigation hasn’t concluded.
“Decisions about placing an officer on leave during an investigation are made by the agency that employs the officer, not by anyone with our department (the SBI),” said Talley this week.
Agents with the SBI, said Talley, are responsible for the investigation. Their role is to gather evidence, conduct interviews with those involved and then prepare a report for the local district attorney.
At that point, said Talley, the DA will determine if the shooting was justified or if charges will be filed.