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Mills River man convicted of firing at deputy, fighting arrest

James Bradley Owen James Bradley Owen

A 22-year-old man who authorities said shot at a law officers and refused repeated commands to surrender was convicted of three counts of assaulting an officer Monday in Henderson County Superior Court.

 

Superior Court Judge Peter Knight sentended James Bradley Owen, of 1132 Gash Road, to consecutive sentences of 24-41 months for each count but was given probation. Owen is serving a six-month jail sentence as part of his probation. District Attorney Greg Newman and Assistant District Attorney Heather Brittain prosecuted the case.

The trial, which began last Tuesday, featured the testimony of Henderson County sheriff’s deputies Chris Goodwin, Ben Hawkins, Jacob Tipton and Nick Newell. They described their encounter with the defendant on 8 p.m. Aug. 11, 2018, at the Mills River Community Center. A local resident called 911 to report that two young men in a pickup truck were shooting at deer from the main road. Deputy Goodwin was nearby and responded to the call for service. Goodwin located a truck parked at the community center on South Mills River Road that matched the description provided by the caller. The truck was abandoned and had both doors open and its headlights on.

The deputy loudly announced his presence, but there was no response or sign of the vehicle occupants. He then activated his siren for about 15 seconds. Goodwin, a 13-year Army veteran who served four combat tours, reported that a shot came from up the hill and he heard the crack of the bullet right above his head. He moved back into his vehicle, requested backup and moved from the community center driveway back onto the main road. While moving his car, he heard two more shots.

When Deputy Goodwin stopped on South Mills River Road, he saw the defendant come out of the woods with a scoped rifle. Goodwin loudly ordered Owen to drop the gun and lie face down on the ground. Owens lowered the barrel of the rifle towards the deputy before placing the firearm on the bed of his truck but continued to ignore Goodwin’s repeated instructions to get down on the ground. Owen said nothing except that he had a “buddy in the woods who has a scope on you.” Goodwin waited approximately 20 minutes while additional officers arrived to assist him.

As deputies Hawkins, Tipton and Newell approached the defendant with their rifles drawn, they again shouted instructions for Owen to get onto the ground. Owen placed his hands in his pockets and retrieved a cell phone from one pocket, almost causing the officers to fire at him. He refused to obey orders and deputies Tipton and Newell had to wrestle him to the ground. Owen fought the deputies and they had to punch him to bring him under control so that they could apply handcuffs. Owen had visible head injuries, but refused EMS treatment at the scene. During the scuffle with Owen, the deputies had to shoot his dog, which was biting one of the officers who was trying to subdue the defendant.

A second suspect was viewed at the community center and he was also placed under arrest for noncompliance with officer instructions. He was a friend of the defendant and was identified as Mills River resident Hunter Wright, 21. Wright also testified at trial and placed the gun in the hands of the defendant.

“Goodwin was wounded in the Army and he knows what it’s like to be fired upon,” Newman said in a news release. "The defendant, through his lawyers, wanted to make this case about police brutality. But three shots had been fired and when the other deputies arrived to assist Deputy Goodwin, the belief was that there was a second gunman on top of the hill. I commend the performance of these sheriff’s deputies and feel that we as a community are lucky to have them serving us in Henderson County. Anyone in our area that struggles to respect those in authority need to know that you cannot fire upon our law enforcement officials and not be held accountable. I really appreciate the jury’s verdict in this case."

“We actually had statements from the co-defendant that Owen had fired his rifle and stated ‘That’ll get them the f- - - out of here’, but it was ruled inadmissible by the court,” Newman added. “The co-defendant also admitted to Deputy Newell that Owen had consumed 14 beers and that both men heard the siren. He did not seem to remember these statements at trial. He was clearly a reluctant witness and I believe this impacted his credibility."

The next term of Superior Court for Henderson County is scheduled for October.