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Litchfield shooting: Deputy was told woman threatened to kill others, tape shows

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A woman who was shot and killed by a deputy sheriff in Litchfield in July was threatening to kill other people as well as herself, the deputy was told.

Valerie Harrington, 37, was killed July 12 in her Litchfield Oaks apartment by Deputy Joe Wilson when she attacked him with a kitchen knife, according to a report by the State Law Enforcement Division. The 15th Circuit solicitor, Jimmy Richardson, said last month there was no evidence of criminal action by Wilson.

Wilson was dispatched to Harrington’s apartment just after 5 p.m. on that Saturday after her mother called the sheriff’s office to report that Harrington was posting messages on Facebook threatening to kill herself. Harrington didn’t respond when Wilson knocked. He and two other deputies entered the apartment with a key from the manager. She charged at the deputies. Wilson shot her several times.

“SLED found that he was defending himself,” Richardson said.

Wilson’s portable radio was broken. He spoke with a dispatcher by phone from outside the apartment door. A recording of that conversation was redacted from 911 recordings released in September by the sheriff’s office in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The sheriff’s office said the redaction was made at the request of the solicitor’s office, which had not yet received the report from SLED’s investigator. The phone conversation was among 23 minutes of 911 recordings provided by the sheriff’s office last week.

The recordings show that Harrington, an engineer who had been fired recently from her job at International Paper, was known to the sheriff’s office. She had been arrested on a harassment complaint filed by her ex-husband, with whom she was in a custody dispute over their young daughter. After Wilson was dispatched to Litchfield Oaks, another deputy radioed to tell him about the harassment case.

Later that night, a deputy from the warrants division called dispatchers because he had heard of the shooting. He recognized the name of the victim. “The husband took out a warrant for her about three weeks ago. And I believe now that there’s another one that just came out for her for, for violating her bond,” he said.

Questions were raised by Harrington’s family about the relationship between sheriff’s office employees and her ex-husband’s family, Richardson said. “It was a real far out issue,” he said, but he asked SLED to look into them and determined they were unfounded.

After Wilson arrived at Litchfield Oaks, his supervisor, Sgt. Clark Ard, radioed Wilson telling him to find out what Harrington had posted on Facebook. “Make her read it to you,” Ard said.

Wilson called the dispatcher at 5:34 p.m.

“You should have seen the stuff she’s been putting on Facebook,” the dispatcher told him. She said she had once been a “friend” of Harrington’s on Facebook, but now was relying on posts from other people. “I unfriended her a long time ago because that girl’s crazy,” the dispatcher said.

She read Wilson a post from someone who was not identified urging people to block Harrington’s comments. “She is crazy. She will kill somebody,” the dispatcher said, reading from the post. Then she added, “She’s making threats to kill people, undoubtedly.”

Wilson said Harrington’s attorney was sending her messages to answer the door. He can be heard knocking seven times on the apartment door.

“Valerie, it’s the sheriff’s department. Open the door so I can talk to you,” Wilson said. There was no reply.

“You need a medic so you can EPC her behind and get her gone,” the dispatcher said, referring to emergency protective custody.

“That’s more than likely what’s going to end up happening,” Wilson said.

The dispatcher said she didn’t like the fact he didn’t have a working radio. Wilson said he had reported it to his supervisors. “It’s frustrating,” he said.

“Well, I don’t like not having contact with you when I’ve got a crazy girl that’s threatening to kill people and herself and you have no radio if [expletive] goes bad,” the dispatcher said.

Wilson and the dispatcher tested the emergency button on his radio. It sent off a series of tones and Wilson told her he would use that to signal if he was in trouble. “So if I hit that, [expletive] went bad,” he said.

“Don’t. Jesus [expletive] Christ,” the dispatcher said.

“Send EMS and other units. OK?” Wilson said.

If something happened to Harrington, he said he would phone in.

“According to mom, they took her weapons,” Wilson said. “Except for the kitchen knives, I’m sure.”

The dispatcher was still concerned and urged him to be careful.

“Hey, I’m going home today, honey. You ain’t got to worry about that,” Wilson said.

Just before 6 p.m., Wilson phoned back to the dispatcher to say another deputy, Dawud Aswad, was coming to back him up. Harrington was locked in the bathroom with a kitchen knife and had stopped communicating with anyone, he said.

“So are you in the house?” the dispatcher asked.

“No. I’m waiting outside. The more Tasers we have pointed at somebody, the better chance we have,” Wilson said.

At 6:14 p.m., Aswad came on the radio. “Shots fired, shots fired.”

Deputy Brandon Siratt had arrived with Aswad. Dispatchers were told they were unhurt. Other communications released last week show that dispatchers initially assumed Harrington had shot herself.

A Midway Fire and Rescue captain, Joe Ruffenach, called for a medic to help Wilson. “That’s who I’m worried about,” he said.

Dispatchers checked with the deputies again. Aswad said Wilson was “shaken.”

Although the initial 911 tapes released by the sheriff’s office included the call by Harrington’s mother, Reta Abbott, who lives in Alabama, asking that someone check on her daughter, a second phone call was redacted. It was the one Abbott made to the dispatch center at 9:04 p.m. “I had called earlier and had officer Joe Wilson go out to my daughter’s apartment,” she told a dispatcher. “I had asked him to please let me know what happened and I have not heard anything.”

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