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Litchfield shooting: Taser missed before fatal shots fired
By Charles Swenson
Deputies tried to use a Taser to stop a suicidal Litchfield woman carrying a knife before she was shot and killed, according to statements obtained by the State Law Enforcement Division. One of the stun gun’s probes hit her leg. The other missed.
Valerie Harrington was within two arms’ lengths of Deputy Joe Wilson, a knife raised in her right hand, when he fired his gun. Investigators found 15 shell casings on the floor of her Litchfield Oaks apartment. She was 36.
“I was shaking,” Wilson, 31, said in a statement to SLED. Deputy Dawud Aswad and Deputy Brandon Siratt were with him and Aswad escorted him to a patrol car. “Why did she not drop the knife,” Wilson asked. “All she had to do was drop the knife.”
The statement was included in a 271-page report compiled by SLED and obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office asked SLED to investigate the July 12 shooting. It completed its report in September and the 15th Circuit Solicitor, Jimmy Richardson, declined to prosecute saying, “based on the information you uncovered, there is no evidence of wrongdoing by this officer.”
Wilson was dispatched to Harrington’s apartment after her mother, Reta Abbott, learned that Harrington was making comments on Facebook about ending her life. Abbott told him she had taken firearms from Harrington’s apartment and that “Valerie’s mental health medication had been changed recently,” according to Wilson’s statement.
There was no answer when he knocked at Harrington’s door. A neighbor asked what was going on and told Wilson, she used to baby-sit for Harrington’s daughter. The neighbor told Wilson Harrington had been in the breezeway with a handgun a couple of weeks earlier “going on about something she cannot remember,” Wilson said.
The neighbor told SLED agents Harrington thought her ex-husband was trying to kill her. The neighbor said Harrington had been “drinking a lot” and lost her job at International Paper. She told SLED she spoke with Abbott who “told me she was back on her medication and going to therapy sessions.”
Wilson got a key to the apartment from a property manager. While waiting, he called Aswad and Siratt for backup and asked Midway Fire and Rescue to stand by in case Harrington harmed herself.
Wilson was also in touch with Marcia Davis, a paralegal for the attorney who represented Harrington during her divorce. Davis told him what was posted on Facebook and that she had sent text messages to Harrington asking her to let the deputy into her apartment.
Davis told SLED that “I noticed bullying going on” via Facebook between Harrington and some women in Andrews, where Harrington used to live. “Please go in and check on her and take her to a hospital,” Davis told Wilson. She said Harrington had told her she was locked in the bathroom with a kitchen knife.
Before entering the apartment, the deputies decided “someone needed to go less lethal and someone needed to [go] lethal,” Wilson told SLED.
When Wilson tried the bathroom door, Harrington “responded in a highly agitated voice for us to get out and that she has a kitchen knife,” he told SLED. They backed into the living room, Siratt with his gun and Aswad with his Taser. Harrington opened the door. She had a can of Bud Lite in a koozie and a cigarette in her left hand. Her right hand was empty, but she reached back into the bathroom for the knife, Wilson said.
The deputies yelled at her to drop the knife. Harrington yelled at the deputies to leave, loud enough that the neighbor told SLED she heard it. Harrington also said “they were trying to kill her,” Wilson said.
“I told Valerie if she would put the knife down we could help her,” he said. “Valerie looked at me and had a ‘1,000 yard stare.’”
She was within 7 feet when Aswad, steadied on one knee, fired the Taser. “The Taser was not effective,” he told SLED. Wilson saw one of the two probes in the wall. When that happens, the Taser has little or no effect, according to the manufacturer.
Harrington continued to advance, Wilson said. Siratt told SLED she “lunged.”
“I felt that my life was in danger,” Wilson told SLED. “I discharged my department issued weapon.”
After Siratt took him to the car, Wilson gave him his gun. The magazine was empty, he said.
The report from Midway Fire and Rescue said emergency medical workers found Harrington on the floor with “multiple gunshot wounds to the torso and extremities.” SLED redacted 140 pages from the report, including medical records obtained from the coroner, Georgetown Memorial Hospital and the Counseling Center of Georgetown. A crime scene report and a firearms report were also redacted.
But SLED did include a letter received from Roger Abbott, Harrington’s father. It asked agents to look into ties between Wilson and Harrington’s ex-husband, something the solicitor said was done and was “a really far out issue.”
The father’s letter also asked why his daughter, who weighed about 100 pounds, was shot 11 times. “My god,” he wrote, “my wife and I need some answers.”