News Article Details

Family of bank robbery, shooting suspect Paul Jones say he had a mental illness; police chief says officers justified in shooting suspect

Salisbury Post - 11/11/2017

SALISBURY - The man Salisbury police say robbed a bank, shot two people and fired at police officers after a vehicle chase is not the evil person he's being portrayed as, family members said Friday.

The Salisbury Police Department says Paul Jones III, 25 - who had recently been living in Salisbury but has a previous address on Pinyan Pine Lane in Charlotte - went into the Wells Fargo bank on West Jake Alexander Boulevard about 5 p.m. Thursday.

Police said he shot 61-year-old Jose Santiago, then shot Larry Darnell Dalton, 45, before stealing his car. Police say Jones fired at officers after taking them on a high-speed chase and crashing the stolen car into another vehicle.

Police officers returned fire, striking Jones, who died at the scene.

Donna Sifford said Jones was her nephew. She described him as a sweet kid and not a drug addict or the criminal he's being described as.

Another family member, who asked not to be named, said Jones was loving and kind-hearted.

"Our fear is that he will be portrayed to be evil or as a criminal. This was not the case. Was he perfect? No. No one is," the relative said.

The woman said Jones comes from a loving, God-fearing family.

"Sadly, he suffered from a mental illness. The family has been trying for months to get him help, but due to how the laws are in North Carolina, he never exactly fit the criteria for an involuntary commitment," she said.

The relative said Jones never made threats to harm himself or others although his "behavior had become increasingly concerning over the past few months."

"We are heartbroken over the situation in its entirety. Yes, he committed a crime but he is also a victim. He is a victim of a broken mental health care system. The health care system that is currently in place failed him, and the end result is ultimately his life," she said.

She said the family is praying for everyone involved, including the community.

"We ask that people please don't be quick to judgment," she said.

Jones attended East Rowan High School and graduated from Independence High School in Charlotte, the relative said.

Police response

At a Friday news conference, Police Chief Jerry Stokes defended his officers handling of the chase.

"In my initial review of the information we have at this point, I am comfortable saying that all officers, including those who fired their weapons, acted with the utmost bravery and valor," Stokes said. "They clearly saved other people's lives yesterday. We don't know what led Mr. Jones to commit these evil acts, and we don't know what else he could have done had the officers not been able to locate him fleeing the area."

Police received a call about an armed robbery at the bank at 5:04 p.m. Thursday. While officers were en route, they learned that someone had been shot inside the bank. Stokes said Jose Santiago, 61, of Salisbury, was shot in the face and remains in critical condition at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. It's not clear what led Jones to shoot Santiago.

Stokes said it was reported that shots were fired at Brenner Avenue during a carjacking in which Larry Darnell Dalton Jr., 45, was thrown from his vehicle and shot in the head and arm. Dalton remains in stable condition, also at Wake Forest hospital. Dalton was the only person in the 2015 Acura that was stolen by Jones, police said.

"I would like to first say our thoughts and prayers are with the victim and family of the man shot at the bank yesterday, the victim and family of the man who was shot by the suspect during a related carjacking, and the family of the person the officers shot," Stokes said. "There are many other victims, including our community as a whole, that were impacted."

Stokes said an officer began to pursue the Acura in the area of Lincolnton Road and South Fulton Street. The chase returned to the area of Jake Alexander Boulevard, where the suspect crashed into two vehicles near the intersection of Jake Alexander Boulevard and Mooresville Road.

He said the State Highway Patrol investigated the crash and he did not have the name of the person whose car Jones struck. Stokes also said he did not know how fast Jones was driving or how long the chase took.

He said Jones fired a weapon at least once and that officers defending themselves fired on the vehicle. Officers had approached the vehicle to arrest Jones when they were fired on, Stokes said.

Three officers discharged their firearms:

? Sgt. Michael Colvin, who is assigned as the supervisor of the narcotics detectives. Colvin has been with the Salisbury Police Department for 21 years.

? Officer Jay Basinger is a patrol officer and has been with the department for two and a half years.

? Officer Joseph Martinez is a K-9 officer assigned to patrol operations and has been with the department for four and a half years.

Stokes said a number of officers were wearing body cameras at the time of the shooting and he has reviewed the footage. He said it shows multiple viewpoints of the shooting.

The chief said Jones fired at least one shot at Officer Basinger and the officer returned fire and sought cover. Both Sgt. Colvin and Officer Martinez then engaged the suspect, who had not yet dropped the firearm, and fired at him, Stokes said.

Stokes confirmed that all of the officers fired more than one shot, but he didn't know which officer may have struck Jones.

The officers removed Jones from the car and began to administer first aid. Jones was conscious for a time, Stokes said. A Rowan EMS crew arrived and took over efforts to save Jones, Stokes said.

No officer was injured in the exchange of gunfire.

Stokes said the SBI will conduct an investigation of the shooting by the officers. It will present the findings to the Rowan County District Attorney's Office, which will determine if the officers' actions were lawful.

"Once that investigation is complete, we will review the matter internally to ensure all policy and procedures were followed and if there are any lessons to learn," Stokes said.

As is common practice, the three officers who fired their weapons have been placed on limited duty, meaning they are not in an enforcement capacity while the investigation continues.

"I am saddened by the events of yesterday. No officer wants to take a life, and the violence has no doubt affected our community sense of safety," Stokes said.

He said supervisors working Thursday, Lt. Andy Efird and Sgt. Brandon Casper, are to be commended for how they took control of a very active and dangerous incident that spanned three scenes.

The chief said Efird maintained control and command of the pursuit and, while there were many officers surrounding the car after it stopped, the shots were controlled and not excessive given the threat. Casper effectively directed the response and enabled the officers to locate the suspect as he fled, Stokes said.

"I cannot express how proud I am of the bravery and valor shown by Sgt. Colvin, Officer Basinger and Officer Martinez. They faced a clear threat from an armed person intent on doing evil and did their duty," he said.

The FBI is investigating the bank robbery.

Eyewitnesses

Betsy Cauble was sitting at the traffic light at the intersection preparing to turn when the Acura swerved to miss hitting her car. She believes the driver tried to correct himself but still hit a vehicle in front of her.

"He came out of nowhere and swerved to miss me. When he tried to correct, he started going sideways," Cauble said.

"He crashed into that car, and immediately police were right in front of us," she said.

Cauble said police officers surrounded the car and were "all around me, and there was nowhere for me to get out. I couldn't move or leave."

"Police were there, and shots were exchanged. They broke out the window and pulled him out of the car," she said.

Cauble described an ordeal that took minutes but felt longer to her.

"I was shaken up. I literally tried to hunker down. I've never been around gunfire. It was quite scary," Cauble said.

She was stopped near McDonald's restaurant waiting to turn when an officer sped through the intersection of Mooresville Road. The car in front of Cauble drove through the intersection and, when she saw another police car, she drove through the intersection to get out of the patrol car's way.

Cauble learned of the bank robbery, shooting and chase only after her husband and son told her. Cauble said she was so scared and still in shock that afterward when police asked her to give a statement, she never thought to ask about what led to the chase.

She called her husband and son to drive her home.

"I was just in shock. I sat there with the engine running for a long time," she said.

Cauble said she feels the officers handled the situation in a professional manner.

Rodney Fortner, who witnessed the shooting, described the "horrifying" events as he sat in his vehicle stuck in traffic beside the getaway car.

Fortner was on the phone with his wife with the intention of going to Taco Bell. He saw multiple police cars descend on the area.

While talking with his wife, Fortner said he saw three or four police cars headed toward Wells Fargo and then saw another four cars near Katana restaurant. He knew at that point that something big was going on, but he wasn't sure what.

He then saw the vehicle Jones was driving slam into another car. Fortner's vehicle was trapped between the stolen vehicle and a tractor-trailer.

"His car stopped right beside mine. I said to my wife, 'I think I'm about to be in a car accident,'" Fortner said.

He said he saw police immediately surround the vehicle. An officer tapped on the window and Fortner said he heard a "pop, pop."

Fortner said he saw the airbags in the Acura deploy, obstructing his view of the driver. But he said he clearly heard what he knew as gunfire. He saw the officers step back and then step forward to return fire at the car.

The whole time, his wife was screaming hysterically on the phone, and Fortner said he was trying to get out of harm's way. He was blocked in by traffic but was eventually able to move and drove home.

"It was horrifying. There were shots that came from the car before they shot," he said of police officers.

"I never even saw the person who was in the car. I didn't see anything in the car," he said.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

 
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