The Onslow County District Attorney's Office has determined that the November shooting death of a 17-year-old boy by a Jacksonville detective was justified.
On Nov. 8, 2022, Jorge Miguel Lopez, 17, of Jacksonville, was shot and killed by a detective assigned to the Special Operations Division and Tactical Team with the Jacksonville Police Department, according to a news release from Onslow County District Attorney Ernie Lee.
After reviewing the investigation of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Lee said he has determined that Lopez's death, while tragic, was justified because his actions caused a detective to reasonably believe it necessary to use deadly force to protect his life and the lives of others at the scene.
At approximately 3:52 p.m. on Nov. 8, the detective in question was called by another detective to assist in a possible armed robbery at the Jacksonville Mall involving an alleged gang member. After determining there was no robbery, the detectives left together to return to the JPD.
The release said that at approximately 4:54 p.m., the detectives observed a dark-colored Chevrolet Malibu accelerate on Hargett Street and then change lanes to the middle turn lane to pass an SUV. The detective in question estimated the Malibu to be driving in excess of 60 miles per hour, nearly 30 over the speed limit.
The detectives decided to stop the Malibu, which was registered to Elizabeth Aquirre Chavez of Onslow County. The Malibu then conducted a U-turn at a high rate of speed into on-coming traffic. The detectives began pursuit of the vehicle.
The release added based on his experience in law enforcement, the other detective recognized the driver immediately as a gang member in Jacksonville. He radioed JPD communications that they were in pursuit of the car and the direction of travel. The Malibu was not traveling in a straight course and not maintaining lane control.
The release said the Malibu approached the intersection of Hargett Street and Bell Fork Road at a high rate of speed. The light was red, and several vehicles were stopped. The Malibu proceeded into the opposite lane of travel, facing oncoming traffic and turned right, narrowly missing two vehicles on Bell Fork Road. The detectives then observed the Malibu turn left onto West Huff Drive as they continued pursuit.
The Malibu passed Onslow Memorial Hospital and was estimated to be driving in excess of 70 mph, the release said. The Malibu abruptly turned right onto Old White Street and lost control, coming to a rest at the bottom of a ditch approximately 100 feet from the intersection of Station Street. The ditch is directly in front of Southeastern Medical Oncology Center.
The detectives pulled up as the occupants were exiting the vehicle and beginning to flee, the release explained. The detective in the passenger seat observed the driver, and two passengers exit the vehicle from the driver's side and begin fleeing on foot. They ran into the parking lot of Southeastern Medical Oncology Center. The detective in question entered and stumbled into the ditch, which was full of thick mud.
The release said the detective in question observed the right front passenger of the Malibu struggling to exit the vehicle through an open window on the passenger side. The detective climbed out of the ditch and began moving toward the passenger who was later identified as Lopez. Lopez exited the Malibu on the passenger side and began running out of the ditch, not complying with the detective's command.
The detective drew his service weapon and pointed it at Lopez. The release said the detective told Lopez in a loud voice, "Police! Get on the ground." As Lopez got closer to the detective, the detective said he clearly observed a handgun in Lopez's left hand. The detective stated he was approximately 7-10 feet away directly to the right of Lopez. The detective continued to give loud commands and continued to point his firearm at Lopez.
The release said the detective stated that Lopez turned his body to face the detective while raising his left arm up and pointing the handgun at him. The detective stated he fired four rounds in immediate succession at Lopez, adding he is trained to shoot until the individual is no longer a threat and that he believed Lopez was going to shoot him, so he fired his firearm in self-defense.
The release said the detective rendered aid to Lopez by applying pressure over his wound. Additional officers and EMS personnel attempted lifesaving measures on Lopez who pleaded with them not to let him die. However, Lopez was pronounced dead at 5:34 p.m. after arriving at Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune.
There is no evidence that Lopez ever fired his weapon, the release said, and evidence shows that Lopez's firearm was unloaded.
Upon investigation, 13 grams of cocaine, more than 100 grams of marijuana, bullets, a digital scale, clear plastic bags and an additional firearm were discovered in the Malibu.
The release said one of the other passengers was apprehended and charged by the Jacksonville Police Department with possession with intent to manufacture, sell and deliver marijuana, manufacture of marijuana, misdemeanor hit and run leaving the scene of an accident with property damage and resisting a law enforcement officer. He was secured under a $12,000 bond and placed in the Onslow County Detention Center.
On Nov. 9, the driver was found and arrested.
The release said he was charged with felonious speeding to elude arrest, no operator's license, resisting a public officer, misdemeanor hit and run leaving the scene with property damage, possession with intent to manufacture, sell and deliver marijuana, manufacture of marijuana, possession with intent to manufacture, sell and deliver cocaine, manufacture of cocaine, second-degree trespass and several motor vehicle infractions. He was secured in the Onslow County Detention Center with a $500,000 secured bond.
A 17-year-old juvenile was in the rear passenger side seat and the release said no juvenile petitions have been filed with the North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice.
The release said that due to the detectives operating in an undercover capacity, there was no dash camera or body cameras worn by detectives. There was also no video of the incident from the nearby businesses.
Lee said he determined there was insufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to show that the detective who fired the fatal shots, acted in a manner that was inconsistent with his perception of an apparent threat. He added his review of the incident indicated there is no evidence that the detective who fired the fatal shots, acted in any manner that is inconsistent with the threat he perceived and certainly no evidence that the detective acted in any way contrary to or in violation of North Carolina law.
Reporter Morgan Starling can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on The Daily News: Onslow DA says November shooting death of 17-year-old by JPD detective was justified