Crime & Courts

Their son was shot at close range by a friend. Parents ask: Why no arrest?

The grieving family of a 20-year-old man shot dead by a friend plans to pursue legal action against the shooter after police and prosecutors decided against filing criminal charges.

Jonathan Swierski of Monroe was shot and killed just after 1 a.m., July 6 at the Paces Commons Apartments on Paces Avenue in Matthews, police have said.

His parents, Scott and Dawn Swierski, met privately Thursday with police and Mecklenburg County prosecutors. There, they learned that the man who shot their son will not be charged.

The Swierskis held a news conference moments later outside the Matthews Police Department. In an emotional conversation with reporters, they decried the decision by police.

Matthews Police Department said in a statement that its detectives also consulted with the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office and officials there concurred with the decision not to file charges.

“We’re disappointed. We’re outraged. We don’t understand it,” Scott Swierski said.

“The (district attorney’s office) is acting like judge and jury,” Dawn Swierski said.

Insufficient evidence

In a news release Thursday, Matthews Police said evidence shows the person fired the gun “as a result of an unintentional discharge” when someone hit his arm with a table leg during a fight among several people.

According to state law, police said, someone who points a gun at another person “without justification may be guilty of involuntary manslaughter if the gun accidentally discharges and kills another person.

“However,” police said in the release, “the evidence, in this case, was not sufficient to prove if this individual ever intentionally pointed the gun at anyone or not.”

In a separate statement, the District Attorney’s Office said the burden of proof in murder or voluntary manslaughter cases requires evidence that a person intentionally killed someone. In involuntary manslaughter cases, the statement says, prosecutors would have to prove the shooting was not merely done out of either self-defense or defense of others.

“The state would be unable to meet that burden of proof,” the District Attorney’s Office said.

The Swierskis, though, say they want the case to be heard by a criminal court judge and a jury and without police charges, that can’t happen.

“Jonathan was shot by a close-range shotgun blast to the chest,” his father, Scott Swierski, told reporters. “He was doing nothing wrong. He was committing no crime. He did not have any weapons on him. He was not on drugs. He was not drinking.”

Police have not said whether Jonathan Swierski was unarmed the morning he died and an autopsy and toxicology report from the state Medical Examiner’s office, requested by The Charlotte Observer, was not available as of Thursday.

Matthews Police say they believe, based on witness testimony, that the man who shot Swierski was at the apartments to be “in defense” of Swierski amid a dispute, which the police department has not elaborated on.

His parents, though, have said both their son and the man who shot him were at the apartments to defend someone else, one of Jonathan Swierski’s friends.

Within moments of arriving, their son was shot and killed, the Swierskis said.

Civil action pending

Scott Swierski says he and his wife have an attorney. They intend to file a lawsuit against the man who shot their son and possibly others who were there that morning, such as the person who hit the gunman’s arm before he pulled the trigger.

Public records show Jonathan Swierski had felony drug and assault charges pending in Union County Criminal District Court at the time of his death. Those cases have, since his death, been dismissed.

Scott Swierski told the Observer he and his wife were aware of the charges. He said his son’s past arrests had nothing to do with Jonathan being shot.

“He was a good kid,” Scott Swierski said. “A and B Honor Roll. ROTC all four years. He did not deserve this.”

“I miss him very much,” his girlfriend, Lacey Horne, said Thursday. Referring to the shooter, she said, “He killed my best friend.”

Dawn Swierski told reporters how her son “would do anything for you,” how he still called her “mama” and how he vowed to care for his parents for the rest of their lives.

“‘I will always be with you,’” Dawn Swierski remembers her son used to tell her.

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