FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) — A man shot and killed at the end of a standoff with Fayetteville police was carrying a rifle officers found at the scene and did not secure, officials said.
He had picked the rifle up after a police officer left it lying on a bed, authorities said Wednesday. The rifle belonged to a resident.
“What I do know is if (he) hadn’t obtained that weapon, the officers wouldn’t have had to use deadly force,” Interim Police Chief Anthony Kelly said.
Patrick Earl Gatson, 32, died after being shot at the conclusion of a more-than-eight-hour standoff at an apartment building on Sycamore Court in Fayetteville that began when officers attempted to serve him with warrants for robbery and possession of stolen goods, authorities have said.
During the standoff, Gatson used the apartment building’s attic — which continued above a number of different apartments — to elude authorities, according to police.
Gatson chased officers with a rifle, threatened to shoot officers and, when told to put his weapon down, replied that officers would have to kill him to end the situation, police officials have said.
Wednesday, the interim chief said that the weapon Gatson used to chase officers, and which he refused to drop, was one police had found, but failed to remove from the scene.
During the standoff, one of the officers taking part in the search for Gatson found a rifle in one of the building’s apartments. It belonged the apartment’s tenants, Gatson’s neighbors, Kelly said police later verified.
“The officer cleared the rifle, placed it on a bed in that apartment and continued searching for Mr. Gatson,” Kelly said. “At some point, Mr. Gatson was able to gain entry to that same apartment and gain access to that rifle lying on the bed.”
The officers involved in the fatal shooting didn’t know that the rifle Gatson was using had earlier been found and cleared by a police officer, Kelly said.
Kelly made the announcement during a specially-called press conference Wednesday night. He said he was disclosing the new information in the interests of transparency.
The State Bureau of Investigation is handling the investigation into the officer-involved shooting, but the Fayetteville Police Department is also assessing its actions during the incident, Kelly said.
The information emerged during a department critique, and the internal critiques will continue, Kelly said. The officer who found and cleared the weapon, but did not secure it has been placed on administrative leave pending further investigation, Kelly said.
“Ideally you want to secure that weapon, at least notify someone that you located a weapon or make sure that no one else can get to that weapon,” he said.
Even if officers had known that the rifle had earlier been cleared, Gatson would have had hours in the building in which he might have found more ammunition, Kelly said in response to a question.