Imagine this: You're 74 years old. You've just had heart surgery and have been resting in the days since. Relatives have been calling all day to check on you, but you don't much feel like talking, so you let the phone ring. You tell yourself you'll call them back tomorrow and you go to sleep. Some time later, you awake to knocking on your door. You check the time — it's 10 p.m. Whatever's on the other side of the door, you don't have the desire or energy to deal with it. The knocking stops, you hear a car drive away and you go back to sleep. An hour and a half later, you're jolted out of dreamland by a bang and a crash. Someone is breaking into your home. They are shouting something, but you can't hear it over the sound of your fragile heart pounding in your chest. Your thoughts race with confusion and panic: "Is this the same person who knocked earlier? Have they been casing my house and decided tonight's the night?"
You decide you won't go down without a fight, grab the pistol you keep for protection and make your way toward the sound. You find yourself pistol to pistol with a police officer who orders you to drop your weapon. You have no idea why police are there, but you're glad they're not robbers. Relieved, you take a breath before you put down your gun. You never have the opportunity to exhale. The officer fires a fatal shot.
You were James Allen and you were shot by Gastonia police officer Josh Lefevers on Feb. 7. He hadn't entered your home to kill you. Ironically, he had been there to make sure you were still alive. When your relatives couldn't reach you, they sent police to check on you. When you didn't answer the door, the police left and checked for you at area hospitals before returning to breach your door. They thought you may have died in there.
Turns out, you eventually did.
Ten days after Allen was killed in his home, another Gastonia resident, Betty Diane Sexton was fatally shot by Gastonia police officer LaDoniqua Neely. Sexton, 43, had called 9-1-1 and told the operator her ex-boyfriend and his friend wouldn't leave her home, and she wanted police to come remove them. At some point, she retrieved an antique musket from her closet — one that requires an intricate loading process in order to be lethal. When Officer Neely arrived, she ordered Sexton to drop it, then shot her in the chest when she says Sexton failed to comply. In an interview, Sexton's sister told WCCB the gun wasn't loaded and that Sexton was in the process of putting it down when she was shot. It's unclear whether or not Sexton's sister was actually on the scene.
The following day, Feb. 18, CMPD officers were called to a northeast Charlotte apartment by Kaneisha Banks, who had been fighting with her girlfriend, 20-year-old Janisha Fonville. Banks called police requesting they take Fonville for a mental health evaluation. Upon arrival, officers were met by Banks, who told them Fonville had a knife. Officer Anthony Holzhauer says she was holding it in her hand when he entered the apartment, and when he told her to drop it, she lunged toward police instead, so he shot her twice — once in the hand and once in the shoulder. She later died from her injuries. But according to Banks, the knife wasn't in her hand; it was attached to her hip.
In all three of these cases, the officers have been placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation. Neither police department is commenting publicly on the cases beyond the officers' accounts of what happened.
There is no video evidence of how these scenes played out. CMPD is hoping to correct that in future cases. This month they begin implementing a four-year, $7 million investment in body cameras. Chief Rodney Monroe has said they'll be heavily and regularly audited to make sure officers are using them as required.
Still, is that enough to make citizens feel comfortable with police? In all three of these February shootings, police were called for help, and the person they were supposed to be helping wound up dead.
Why does this keep happening? Is it a problem of poor training? Is it simply a race issue? Allen and Fonville were both black and killed by a white officer. Sexton was white and killed by a black officer. Is this a situational coincidence?
Last summer, I wrote about the seemingly out-of-control police in Durham, which had seen five officer-involved shootings in less than two years. I received a few emails from residents there advising me to worry about my own city. Less than a year later, in our area we have three officer-involved shootings in less than three weeks. I believe I'll heed their advice. I'm worried.