Special to Iredell Free News
A special prosecutor has determined that Mooresville police officers acted lawfully when they shot and killed a Mooresville man after responding to a domestic assault involving a “possibly suicidal person” last summer.
Randolph County District Attorney Andrew M. Gregson announced his findings on Friday after reviewing the results of the State Bureau of Investigation’s probe into the August 2, 2020, shooting death of Christopher Craven.
“It is clear from all of the evidence that at the time Officers Arndt and Novelli fired their duty rifles they were presented with an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury from the actions of Mr. Craven,” Gregson said in a news release.
“It is also clear from the evidence that the officer’s application of deadly force was reasonable and necessary in response to this threat. Officer Arndt’s and Novelli’s actions were lawful, justified, and proper under U.S. Constitutional law and the North Carolina law governing the use of deadly force by law enforcement,” he added.”
According to the medical examiner’s report, Craven was shot 15 times by officers. A second autopsy paid for by Craven’s family said he was shot 20 times, according to published reports.
Here is the complete news release issued by the special prosecutor’s office:
On August 2, 2020 Mooresville Police Department (MPD) Officers Arndt and Novelli were involved in the use of deadly force against Mr. Christopher K. Craven at his residence in Mooresville. Mr. Craven died from gunshot wounds sustained in the incident. Pursuant to a request by the MPD, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (NC SBI) assumed responsibility for the use of force investigation. Special Agent (SA) Jefferson Waugh was assigned as the lead investigator. SA Waugh completed his report of investigation and delivered it to District Attorney Sarah Kirkman. District Attorney Kirkman determined that she had the appearance of a conflict and requested assistance from the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys.
The N.C. Conference of District Attorneys requested that the District Attorney for Randolph County assume responsibilities for the review of the investigation and the determination of whether the use of deadly force was lawful. The undersigned District Attorney took receipt of the entire investigative file on June 2, 2021. District Attorney Gregson conducted a thorough review of the investigation and evidence, to include body worn camera footage, documents, crime scene photographs, the autopsy report, recordings of witness interviews, recordings of the involved officers, recordings of radio traffic and 911 calls, and doorbell camera footage. The District Attorney also consulted extensively with SA Waugh and assigned his senior Assistant District Attorney to review the investigation.
The District Attorney determined that the NC SBI’s investigation was thorough and sufficient to determine the legality of the use of deadly force and concluded that no further investigation is required.
The U.S. Constitution requires first that all use of force be reasonably necessary under the 4th Amendment. North Carolina General Statute Section 15A-401(d)(2), authorizes law enforcement officers to apply deadly force when it is or appears to be reasonably necessary to defend themselves or another person from what they believe is the use or imminent use of deadly force. Officers are entitled to rely upon the circumstances as they appear to the officer at the time of the use of deadly force. Law enforcement officers in NC are not required to retreat before using deadly force. The law does not require that officers be shot at or injured before using deadly force. The law allows for deadly force when it reasonably appears to the officer that an unlawful use of deadly force is imminent.
On Sunday, August 2, 2020, at about 9:29 p.m. Iredell County Emergency Communications received a 911 call about a domestic assault and possibly suicidal person. The 911 operator transferred the caller to the Mooresville PD dispatcher. The caller related that the person, “Chris Craven,” had assaulted a female in the residence and was threatening to “blow his brains out.” The caller related that Craven was a Concealed Carry Permit holder and that she thought he had a gun. Later in the call she confirmed that Craven had a gun. The caller noted that in addition to herself and the person assaulted there were two young children (ages 7 and 13) in the home. During the call Mr. Craven came into and left the residence several times. Screaming, yelling, and crying could be heard throughout the call. At some point the caller related that the female who was assaulted had been locked in the bedroom by Mr. Craven and that he had threated to go outside and kill himself. Mr. Craven can be heard threatening to kill himself, and the small children can be heard begging him not to and telling Craven that they love him.
Because of the nature of the 911 call multiple MPD officers responded to the scene. The officers were told by MPD Communications that the subject of the call had committed an assault, had a gun, had threatened suicide, and was in and out of the house. Responding officers stopped down the street from the residence and approached on foot. As officers Arndt and Novelli entered the property Mr. Craven was seen walking towards a travel camper parked in the driveway of the home. At this point the officers were approximately 30 feet from Mr. Craven. Body camera footage reveals that he said something to the officers, but it cannot be completely understood from the video and both officers stated that they could not make out exactly what was said. The officers identified themselves and ordered Mr. Craven to put his hands up and to get on the ground. Body camera video shows that Mr. Craven continued to walk, put his hands up for about one second in response to the officers’ commands and then took them down to the sides of his torso. Both involved officers stated that they then saw Craven reach into his waistband with his right hand and pull out a pistol. In response Officers Arndt and Novelli fired multiple rounds from their duty rifles. Mr. Craven can be seen on the body camera footage taking several steps backwards towards the front entrance to the house as the officers fire their rifles and then falling to the ground. The officers’ body camera video records their advance to where Mr. Craven has fallen, and Officer Arndt can be heard to ask: “Where did the handgun go?” He then shifted his weapon light from Mr. Craven and remarked “Right there.” Officer Arndt’s body camera video showed a Smith and Wesson (S&W) Shield 9mm pistol lying on the stairs to the residence very close to Craven’s body, illuminated by the officer’s weapon light. The S&W Shield pistol can also clearly be seen in the same position seconds earlier in the body camera video of both officers as they advance on Mr. Craven after the shooting.
Officers on scene attempted emergency life-saving procedures on Mr. Craven and enter the residence to ensure there are no victims needing assistance. Mr. Craven was pronounced dead at the scene.
The S&W Shield pistol was found to be loaded and there was a round in the chamber. The video footage reveals an empty pistol holster in Mr. Craven’s waistband, just slightly to the right of his midline. An additional magazine for the S&W Shield pistol, in a magazine holder and loaded with seven 9mm rounds, was found in the pocket of his shorts.
The Smith & Wesson Shield 9mm pistol was later confirmed by a Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Agency trace to have been lawfully purchased by Mr. Craven on July 11, 2016, from a Federal Firearms License holder in Mooresville.
Doorbell camera video footage was later obtained showing Mr. Craven on the front porch of his residence just before the arrival of the officers. A holstered black pistol in his waistband can clearly be seen.
The autopsy of Mr. Craven revealed that he died from multiple gunshot wounds from the officer’s rifles. The toxicology report revealed that Mr. Craven had Amphetamine (less than .25 mg/L), Bupropion (anti-depressant / smoking cessation), Citalopram (anti-depressant) and Ethanol (alcohol – concentration of 170 mg/dL0) in his blood.
Conclusion of the District Attorney
For an application of deadly force to be lawful, the actions of the officer must first be reasonable under the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The application of deadly force is a “seizure” of the citizen under that Amendment. The test for reasonableness is an objective one, viewed in light of the circumstances presented to the officers. In this matter the officers were responding to a highly volatile and dangerous situation for them and the occupants of Mr. Craven’s home. They were informed that Mr. Craven had committed a domestic assault. The officers had information that two adult females and two children were in the home. They were informed that Mr. Craven was suicidal and acting irrationally. The officers were informed as they approached the residence that Mr. Craven was going back into the residence. And finally, the officers had information that Mr. Craven was armed with a deadly weapon. When confronted with the officers’ lawful orders, Mr. Craven refused to comply and pulled a handgun he had in a holster on his person. Only then did the officers fire their duty rifles. Officers do not and cannot shoot to wound when confronted with an imminent and unlawful threat of deadly force. Officers under such circumstances are justified in applying deadly force to stop the threat. The law does not require officers to be shot or even shot at before they are permitted to respond with deadly force.
It is clear from all of the evidence that at the time Officers Arndt and Novelli fired their duty rifles they were presented with an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury from the actions of Mr. Craven.
It is also clear from the evidence that the officer’s application of deadly force was reasonable and necessary in response to this threat. Officer Arndt’s and Novelli’s actions were lawful, justified, and proper under U.S. Constitutional law and the North Carolina law governing the use of deadly force by law enforcement.
The investigation by the District Attorney into this incident is closed.