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Litchfield: Solicitor clears deputy in July’s fatal shooting

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

No criminal charges will be brought against a Georgetown County deputy who shot and killed a Litchfield woman who was threatening suicide in her apartment, according to 15th Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson.

“It was obvious it was self defense,” he said.

Valerie Harrington was shot by Deputy Joseph Wilson when she attacked him with a kitchen knife. Harrington’s mother called the sheriff’s office July 12 when she learned that Harrington was threatening to kill herself in her apartment at Litchfield Oaks. Harrington, 36, had just lost her job at International Paper, where she was an engineer. She had divorced earlier in the year and her ex-husband had gone to court to challenge their joint custody arrangement.

Wilson arrived at the apartment around 5 p.m. on the Saturday afternoon. Harrington didn’t answer the door, so he got the keys from a manager. Two other deputies arrived and they entered the apartment just after 6 p.m. At 6:14 one of them radioed “Shots fired. Shots fired.”

The incident report completed by the shift supervisor said Harrington charged at the deputies with a knife. She was shot several times.

“I think that’s what had people concerned,” Richardson said. “The case law is directly in the officer’s favor on that. If you shoot once, you can continue to shoot until the problem has been abated. Until the person quits coming at you with a knife.”

The three deputies at the scene were placed on administrative leave while the State Law Enforcement Division investigated. That’s routine in shootings by law enforcement. “Make sure there’s no appearance of impropriety. We’re not protecting our own,” Richardson said.

The solicitor’s office received the SLED report in September. “A very lengthy report,” Richardson said. “Very unbiased.”

“This was for us to look at whether there was a criminal action, and in this case there was not,” he said.

At the request of Harrington’s family, Richardson asked SLED for a follow-up investigation. “It was one of those things like ‘A knows B and they work with C,’ ” he said. “It was a real far out issue, but SLED went out and did a little extra work at my request.”

The attorney for Harrington’s family, Holly Wall, could not be reached for comment.

Richardson notified SLED on Oct. 8 that he would not prosecute. The sheriff’s office was notified last week and Wilson returned to duty. On Saturday, he was among the deputies called to Prince George in response to a man in the neighborhood with a gun and “altered mental status.”

Although the man had the gun in his pocket and ignored orders not to touch it, he was disarmed without incident.

Note: This article has been changed from the print edition to correct an error in the location of the incident of the man with the gun. It was Prince George, not DeBordieu.

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