Suspect charged in N.C. police slayings
By KYTJA WEIR, GREG LACOUR and CLEVE R. WOOTSON JR.
The Charlotte Observer (North Carolina)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Charlotte-Mecklenburg police charged a man Sunday night in the slayings of two police officers who were gunned down while responding to a call at an east Charlotte apartment complex.
Officers Sean Clark, 34, and Jeff Shelton, 35, died at Carolinas Medical Center early Sunday. They were the first Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers slain in the line of duty in more than a decade.
Police charged Demetrius Antonio Montgomery, 25, with two counts of first-degree murder. They did not discuss a motive but are still investigating.
He has been found guilty of assaulting a government official or resisting a public officer five times since 1998, N.C. court records show.
The news of the officers' slayings circulated quickly among police Sunday, with even many of those out of town for spring break having already learned the news by midday.
Officers who were working Sunday wore black elastic bands around their badges. Many said they felt too numb to talk about their fallen comrades, nerves raw from what they know could happen to any of them.
"They're not only in a state of shock," said Chief Darrel Stephens. "They're in a state of wanting to know what you want to know, what we all want to know: What happened."
News of the slayings also reached beyond Charlotte, with people from as far as Kentucky, Michigan and Massachusetts filling more than 18 pages of an online memorial.
The two North Tryon division officers were handling a reported disturbance at 10:26 p.m. at the Timber Ridge Apartments on Barrington Drive near Milton Road and East W.T. Harris Boulevard, police said. The complex used to be called Barrington Oaks.
They were shot around 11:15 p.m., police said, while struggling with the suspect outside an apartment building. No one else was injured. Neither officer fired his weapon, police said.
Police have not yet said whether Clark and Shelton were wearing bulletproof vests, but they said it wouldn't have made a difference even if they were. Witnesses said they were each shot in the head.
Police interviewed scores of people in the neighborhood, Stephens said. Although they initially said they were looking for two men, they said they had interviewed only Montgomery as a suspect and were not looking for anyone else Sunday.
The mayor, City Council members and police officials discussed the news of his arrest in a police conference room Sunday night next to a hallway lined with the framed portraits of 23 other fallen officers.
"In addition to two families, Charlotte is in mourning," Mayor Pat McCrory said. "It was a brutal and senseless act and I don't think it was just against these two heroes and our police department. It's an act that impacts the heart and soul of our city. It's unacceptable."
Clark and Shelton had worked together in the same division for just over two months, working as a team when two officers were needed on one call.
On Saturday night, they were both called to answer the disturbance report, as is standard for such calls. They drove in separate squad cars to the complex off Milton Road near East W.T. Harris Boulevard.
It was the police work they both loved.
Clark had always wanted to be a police officer. The 1991 graduate of West Mecklenburg High joined the Air Force and worked a few other jobs. But he kept trying and trying to get into the police academy. He finally was hired just over a year ago.
He lived in Lincoln County's Iron Station community with his wife. He has a 2-year-old son, and his wife is expecting another child in June.
Shelton was also married and lived in the small Stanly County town of Locust.
He had been with the force for more than six years. The former Marine had worked in various divisions of the Police Department, most recently moving from the midnight shift along the South Boulevard corridor to the same shift in the neighborhoods of east Charlotte's North Tryon division.
Capt. Mike Adams called Shelton a hard-working officer. He was dedicated, said Capt. Chuck Adkins, focusing on his family and his job.
It's not clear what went wrong Saturday night. Police spokeswoman Julie Hill said Montgomery did not appear to be involved in the initial disturbance call that the officers were answering at the complex.
Two women saw the officers' cars in the parking lot as the women smoked and talked just outside their building.
Then, one said, she saw a man about 5 feet 6 inches tall, wearing a white shirt, walk across the lot. Neither recognized him.
After a few minutes, the other woman said, one of the officers stepped outside, followed by his partner. The two officers talked with the man in the white shirt for 10 to 15 minutes, one of the women said.
"It seemed like they were just having a conversation. They were just standing there talking," said E. Tejada, who asked the Observer not to use her full name because she is scared. "It was so weird, how it happened."
She said she turned her head to speak to a friend. Seconds later, she heard shots.
"Bam, bam, bam. Five times," another neighbor said.
Tejada rushed inside her apartment, put her five children in the bathroom and told them to stay close to the floor.
Then, she said, she grabbed her house keys, her cell phone and ran outside, calling 911 as she went. Her cell phone shows the call lasted 27 seconds.
The officers lay in the grass just to the right of a building's entrance. Police said their weapons remained holstered to their bodies.
Tejada told the dispatcher that two officers were shot. One officer was on his back, not breathing, with his eyes closed. The other was on his side, lying partially on top of his partner, still breathing and trying to speak.
"It was like mumbling," she said.
Tejada said she couldn't understand what he was saying. But she said she noticed both men appeared to have been shot in the backs of their heads_one in the middle, the other behind his right ear.
Other residents were beginning to crowd around the officers, she said, and police showed up within two or three minutes.
"It was chaos all night after that," she said, with police evacuating the five buildings around the lot.
The officers were rushed to Carolinas Medical Center's main hospital, a line of police cars escorting them. Clark died just after midnight. Shelton was pronounced dead at 4:06 a.m., police said.
The last time an officer from the department was fatally shot in the line of duty was in 1993, when the city was smaller but had a record year of violence with 129 homicides.
The past two years the district has had about 80 homicides, highs for the past decade but nothing matching the violence of the early 90s.
Yet Saturday's shooting came a day after police arrested 15 members of the Hidden Valley Kings, a gang based in a nearby neighborhood in northeast Charlotte. Stephens said investigators do not believe the officers' slaying was connected to the gang crackdown.
By afternoon the complex of two-story apartments with red bricks, beige siding and iron railings looked quiet. Signs of the deadly violence weren't apparent except for a handful of azalea blossoms left on the grassy lawn where the officer's bodies fell.
(Charlotte Observer staff writers April Bethea, Danica Coto, David Perlmutt, Amy Rainey, Andrew Shain and researcher Marion Paynter contributed to this report.)
(c) 2007, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.).