VAN BUREN, Ark. — Officers were justified in fatally shooting a gunman who entered a western Arkansas courthouse and opened fire on court workers, a county prosecutor said in a letter to local law enforcement.
Crawford County prosecutor Marc McCune wrote to Sheriff Ron Brown and Van Buren Police Chief Kenneth Bell in a letter dated Monday that all officers involved in last week's shootout with James Ray Palmer acted "reasonably and professionally."
Authorities say Palmer, after firing shots inside a judge's office and throughout the building, walked outside and shot at authorities who had responded to panic alarms and 911 calls.
Officers fired back and wounded Palmer, who died later at a local hospital.
"The officers were defending themselves and others from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force by James Palmer," McCune wrote.
An Arkansas State Police investigation is ongoing, though officials say no one else is suspected of helping Palmer, 48, carry out the attack.
He is believed to have entered the Crawford County courthouse, with two handguns and an assault rifle concealed under a long jacket, to find Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell. When a court worker told Palmer the judge wasn't in, he opened fire. The court worker was wounded, as was a police officer who was hit by bullet fragments outside. Neither was killed.
Cottrell had approved Palmer's divorce from Steffeny Palmer in 2001. Steffeny Palmer had obtained a restraining order before the divorce. She accused James Palmer of attacking her, setting their couch on fire and threatening to buy assault weapons, according to court documents.
State police spokesman Bill Sadler told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that authorities still want to find out where Palmer obtained the weapons he used. Authorities also are waiting on autopsy, toxicology and ballistics reports, Sadler said.
The courthouse had security cameras installed inside and outside the building. State police, citing an ongoing investigation, have denied an Associated Press open records request for the tape of Palmer's attack.
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