Howell’s actions ruled to be justifiable
The Carson City District Attorney announced Monday that Carson City Sheriff’s Deputy Carl Howell acted justifiably in the 2015 shooting that resulted in both Howell’s and a suspect’s death.
District Attorney Jason Woodbury stated Howell acted in self-defense, as the result of investigation into the shooting.
“As there can be no criminal charges in this matter, there will never be a trial,” states the DA’s investigation report. “Nevertheless, it is important that the citizens of Carson City have an opportunity to examine this incident for themselves and to scrutinize the conduct involved in a way a criminal trial would allow.”
Howell and the suspect, Jonathon Pope were both killed Aug. 15, 2015, following a gunfire exchange at Pope’s residence. Pope’s neighbors called the police after hearing the suspect become violent with his live-in girlfriend after a night of drinking, investigation reports stated. Howell had responded to the Montez Drive residence for a domestic violence call at 12:27 a.m.
According to the report, Howell first talked with the female victim, while Pope, fully clothed went into the residence and engaged the deadlock on the front door. It’s presumed Howell and a second officer asked about weapons.
“I thought they were asking me, ‘does he have a gun on him?’” she said. “So I’m like, ‘No. No…’ And I wasn’t even thinking. I’m just like, no, he doesn’t have a gun on him. But I didn’t think like yes, there’s guns in the house.”
The report states “the tactical characteristics of Deputy Howell’s approach to the front door are consistent with that of a trained officer who has been informed that the occupant of a residence has no access to firearms.” It was at the front door where he encountered Pope, who had a .357 Magnum revolver in his hand, and was standing between the front door and the storm door. The second deputy on scene reported they heard a rapid succession of multiple gunshots as the two exchanged gunfire, inflicting fatal wounds on one another.
“The officer didn’t even have — have any clue that it was coming,” one witness reported.
The report stated the shooting happened within seconds. The second deputy’s last transmission was at 2:31:58 a.m. and the shots fired transmission came at 2:32:19 a.m.
“That (front storm) door swung open, you could just see somewhat of a flash and just two loud bangs and I saw one of the officers at that point just drop,” a second witness stated.
Deputies on scene were unable to reach Howell immediately after the shooting. By 2:38 a.m. that night four additional deputies were on scene, however, Pope’s body was obscured by large foliage and deputies couldn’t see where he was.
Deputies however did coordinate a rescue effort to get Howell, where they transported him by patrol vehicle to an awaiting ambulance nearby.
Three children were also secured on scene. Pope’s body wasn’t discovered until 3:04 a.m. when one of the children exited the residence and informed a sergeant of the body under a tree, according to the investigation report. Precautionary coverage and surveillance of the residence remained in place until SWAT cleared the residence at 4:23 a.m.
The investigation revealed Pope was shot through the glass of the storm door and Pope’s right hand had cleared the storm door before firing.
“An officer involved shooting and the violent death of an officer in the line of duty are the two most tragic outcomes when law enforcement responds to a call for service,” Woodbury said. “This incident involved both, and I felt it was important to give our citizens the opportunity to review the circumstances for themselves.”
The evidence didn’t conclusively establish who fired first. Woodbury said two eyewitnesses said Pope fired between two and five shots at Howell before he was able to return fire.
“But eyewitnesses are not infallible,” Woodbury said. “(My office) examined and re-examined” the entire investigation in an effort to find “scientific or physical corroboration of the eyewitness accounts.”
The District Attorney’s Office also supplemented the investigation in an attempt to determine who fired first.
“We performed test fires at the range, physically inspected the scene, consulted experts, everything we could do to answer the question of who fired first,” said Woodbury. “But there just wasn’t sufficient evidence for me to conclusively say, ‘yes, the eyewitnesses are right. Pope fired first.’ That’s not to say they’re wrong. They may very well be correct. But I cannot say that beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The question of who fired first was deemed unresolved.
However, that does not weaken the conclusion Howell was within the law, Woodbury said.
“In the final analysis, the sequence of shots is inconsequential,” he said. “Pope was armed, and reliable evidence establishes he consciously and willfully intended to either shoot Deputy Howell or to threaten him with the firearm. Deputy Howell perceived that threat and reacted with a proportional response. Nevada law clearly authorizes his use of force under these circumstances.”
The report indicates the self-defense criteria states “to justify taking the life of another in self-defense, the circumstances must be sufficient to excite the fears of a reasonable person placed in a similar situation.” It also states “a person has a right to defend from apparent danger to the same extent as he would from actual danger.”
Woodbury described why it was concluded Howell acted in self-defense.
“First, Deputy Howell approached the door without drawing his firearm or any kind of weapon… Pope approached the front door with his firearm in hand,” Woodbury said. “Deputy Howell’s intent was to investigate. He had no notion of introducing force or even a show of force in a situation… Jonathon Pope’s intent was altogether different. Approaching the front door with a firearm in his hand was a decision. Obviously it wasn’t a thoughtful decision. But it was not an accident or a coincidence. It was a conscious, intentional decision and a conscious, intentional decision necessarily implies a purpose.”
The investigation was conducted by the Reno Police Department and assisted by the Nevada Division of Investigation. They submitted thousands of documents and dozen of witness interviews for the review. The District Attorney’s report was 62 pages and emphasized transparency as the objective of the report. In order to protect the identities of those on scence, the Nevada Appeal has decided not to publish the entire report.