Crime & Courts

Sheriff’s deputy will not be charged after she shot, killed her husband, police say

Police are not pursuing criminal charges against a Mecklenburg County sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed her husband, also a county sheriff’s deputy, in January 2018, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police spokesman confirmed Tuesday.

Deputy Rataba Hawkins fatally shot her husband, Deputy James Hawkins, after he threatened her with a knife and threw things at her, according to his autopsy report.

The Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office decided it could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rataba Hawkins wasn’t acting in self-defense, according to letter Assistant District Attorney Bill Bunting sent to CMPD.

James Hawkins, 35, had been a Mecklenburg County sheriff’s deputy since 2005, the sheriff’s office said shortly after his death. He was pronounced dead at the couple’s home on the 13300 block of Ashley Meadow Drive in northeast Charlotte, police said.

Rataba Hawkins has been on paid administrative leave since James Hawkins’ death, the sheriff’s office confirmed Wednesday. She is the subject of an internal investigation at the sheriff’s office, which was suspended until CMPD announced the result of its investigation.

Officials initially hesitated to describe Rataba Hawkins’ role in the shooting, only confirming that she was “involved” and that the incident was domestic.

A search warrant said Rataba Hawkins called 911 the afternoon of the shooting, saying that her husband had reached for a knife and she shot him. Less than 20 minutes later, James Hawkins had been pronounced dead with multiple gunshot wounds.

Hawkins’ autopsy, which echoed the search warrant’s narrative that Rataba Hawkins shot him after he threatened her with a knife, said he died of a gunshot wound to the neck.

Rataba Hawkins told police that she and her husband had been married for three years and he had physically and verbally abused her before, according to Bunting’s letter to CMPD. Her teenage daughter agreed with that account in her own interview with police, saying she had repeatedly witnessed the abuse, Bunting’s letter said.

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“(Rataba Hawkins) and (her daughter) have sought refuge elsewhere in the middle of the night multiple times ... she said she never called the police because she and Mr. Hawkins are sheriff’s deputies,” Bunting wrote in his summary of Hawkins’ CMPD interview.

Hawkins told police her husband insisted they keep firearms close at hand whenever they were home, according to Bunting’s letter to CMPD. She told police that on the afternoon of the killing, she had put her gun on the couch near where she was cleaning up, and James Hawkins began complaining and arguing with her. He had been drinking, she said.

Then, he either grabbed a knife or reached for a knife — Hawkins used both terms in her interview with police and explained that she thought they meant the same thing — and she shot him, Bunting explained in his letter, citing Hawkins’ police interview.

Bunting found that “it would be impossible for the State to successfully prosecute Mrs. Hawkins for the death of Mr. Hawkins,” he wrote. The burden to prove Rataba Hawkins acted unreasonably would fall to the state, he wrote, and even though some questions remain in the case, the state would not be able to do that.

Jane Wester is a Charlotte native and has been covering criminal justice and public safety for The Charlotte Observer since May 2017.