A former sheriff’s deputy accused of fatally shooting an unarmed man who appeared to be reaching for his gun during an argument in the deputy’s vehicle has been indicted on multiple charges, including second-degree murder.
Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. has been the subject of several high-profile civil lawsuits, and his office has been under intense scrutiny since the March 15 shooting death of 32-year-old Robert L. Harris, who was unarmed and was allegedly reaching for a gun in his pocket.
The Washington Post reported Monday that Harris had been arrested in April 2016 for selling crack cocaine and possessing a stolen firearm.
Harris’s family had filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Clarke and the county.
A statement from the Harris family said they are “disappointed and heartbroken” by the allegations against Clarke.
The Harris family statement said, “The Sheriff’s Department has repeatedly shown itself to be a dysfunctional, corrupt, and ineffective organization that is plagued by excessive use of force, and has an unwillingness to enforce the law in the face of serious threats to public safety.
The sheriff’s office is under siege by the people of West Virginia and their anger is contagious.
We know that Sheriff Clarke’s office will never again serve as a shining beacon for the people.
We ask the public to remain patient, calm and gather in our communities as we seek justice.”
According to a report in the Post, Clarke said the shooting was “a tragic mistake by a rogue deputy” and that he would resign from office “within 72 hours.”
Sheriff Clarke, a Democrat who was appointed by President Barack Obama, is a longtime supporter of the president.
He served in the West Virginia legislature from 1998 to 2007.
Sheriffs in New Mexico and California have also been under scrutiny following the shooting of an unarmed Hispanic man by police in Los Angeles.
In that case, the victim, Mario Torres, had been standing on the sidewalk and allegedly pointed a gun at officers.
Torres was killed by police who were responding to a 911 call.
The police officer who shot Torres was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal investigation into the incident.
In the West Virgina case, Clarke has been accused of using excessive force and lying about the circumstances of the shooting.
Sherri L. Williams, the wife of the deceased man’s father, called the allegations “very serious and very concerning” and said, “[T]he deputies were acting with malice and the officers were acting on a false confession.
We need justice.
We are fighting for it.”
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @NussbaumDC