When Huntersville police officers shot and killed a man in January, they thought he had shot at one of their own, according to documents released Monday.
Investigators from the State Bureau of Investigations found no evidence that the man fired his gun, according to a report released by Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather.
And like several other Mecklenburg County officers who have killed people holding but not firing guns in recent years, the two officers — Sgt. John Allen and Officer Travis Watts — will not be charged, Merriweather wrote.
The night of the shooting, a woman called 911 just after 8 p.m., saying she was the girlfriend of 42-year-old Joseph Cephus Hilton V. She said her boyfriend was beating her, Merriweather's report states.
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She was visibly injured when officers arrived, so they planned to arrest Hilton, Allen later told investigators.
The girlfriend warned officers that Hilton had threatened suicide and had guns in the southwest Huntersville house, the report states.
After yelling for Hilton and getting no response, four of the five officers walked upstairs, where Hilton was in a bedroom, the report said.
Three of the officers later said Hilton was in bed and they saw a gun in his right hand. Neither the hand nor the gun were visible in body camera footage, according to the report.
A gun matching the officers' description was found near Hilton's right hand in the bedroom, the report states.
From there, the officers' stories don't quite match up with the evidence found at the scene.
Allen said he saw Hilton point the gun at Officer Austin McEntire, so he shot at Hilton right away, the report states. He told investigators he thought McEntire had been shot.
Watts said he thought he saw a muzzle flash from Hilton's gun in the director of McEntire and another officer, and then he shot at him. Hilton's body had 17 gunshot wounds, according to his autopsy.
McEntire said Hilton pointed the gun at him and he saw a flash and sparks from the gun, which was one foot or less from his chest, the report said.
"McEntire said he believed he felt something hit his vest when he saw the muzzle flash and he thought he had been hit," the report said.
He rolled out of the room and continued to hear gunshots, he said. Not long after, Watts checked him for gunshot wounds and did not find any, the report said.
When investigators searched for spent cartridge cases from Hilton's gun or other evidence that he'd fired, they found none.
The gap between the officers' perception and what happened in the room is not surprising, former police officer and Bowling Green State University criminal justice professor Phil Stinson said.
"Your mind can be convinced that the next logical step is ... 'I've been shot,'" Stinson said.
The bedroom was dark enough that officers were using flashlights, which could make it hard to tell what's going on, Stinson said.
The officers' perception of the lighting varied: Allen said officers were using flashlights, which was supported by body camera video, but McEntire said it was dark and Watts thought there was an overhead light.
When officers' stories don't match up with one another, that makes them more believable, if anything, Stinson said. Identical stories would be suspicious, he said.