ASHE COUNTY-During public comment of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday morning, Sheriff Terry Buchanan provided previously unreported details of the settlement that was reached with the family of Walter Mark Houck, who died in an officer involved shooting in November 2012.
According to the sheriff, a settlement of $312,000 was reached in the civil case.
Houck, 47, died Nov. 19, 2012, after being shot nine times by officers, according to an autopsy report issued by Wake Forest University’s Department of Pathology, after they responded to a report of a shooting at 543 Gaither Poe Road shortly after 11 p.m.
Each of the officers involved, including Josh Hopkins, were exonerated in that shooting by District Attorney Tom Horner.
Hopkins is currently awaiting trial on second degree murder charges in the death of Dallas Shatley.
In the months that followed, however, Hopkins and another officer, Brandon Phil Howell, were sued by Houck’s family. The allegations against Howell were later dropped in May 2016. The Houck family sought damages in a wrongful death suit.
A murky confrontation
In the lengthy civil complaint filed in US District Court, the Houck family’s attorney outlines its version of events leading up to the shooting and the moments that followed Houck’s death.
Houck, who was said to be nearly blind and deaf at the time of the shooting, was killed by officers during a confrontation at his Laurel Springs home in November 2012. According to authorities, Houck failed to comply with the officers orders.
Originally, officers came to his house after hearing reports of gunfire coming from Houck’s home. Houck was known to routinely fire off rounds to scare off any animals when he let his dog out at night, according to the civil suit.
According to the civil suit, Hopkins and the other officers who responded that night, weren’t told of Houck’s vision and hearing impairments. The suit said Houck had also been drinking the night of the shooting and had become upset about something.
About 10:50 p.m. that night, Houck discharged a shotgun several times from the front porch of his house, and then went back inside, according to the complaint.
The complaint, and Hopkins’ answer, both acknowledge Houck was seen picking up a rifle. The Houck family’s suit claims Houck carried a single shot, bolt-action rifle in a hunter-safe position, muzzle up toward the ceiling and the stock at his waist.
The suit claims that Houck was completely unaware that the officers were present in the dark watching him when he opened the back door to let his dog out before stepping outside. A flood light at the backdoor was on, which illuminated the cement walkway. According to the suit, Houck took a few steps away from the door.
As he stepped out of the house, Houck held his gun in the same safety position, stock at his waist and muzzle up in the air, according to the complaint. Hopkins’ answer, however, alleges Houck “opened a door to his home and exited carrying a long rifle with two hands, one hand gripping the rifle’s trigger area and one hand gripping the fore stock.”
At this time, Hopkins was said to have called out from the darkness 35 yards away to Houck to throw his gun down.
“The officers claim that (Houck) turned in their direction and lowered his rifle as if to protect himself,” the suit alleges.
The civil action also states that due to his medical condition, he could not see or hear the officers’ command.
The complaint said Hopkins then opened fire on Houck. In his answer, Hopkins said as Houck “shouldered, pointed and aimed his rife at Defendant Hopkins and Officer (Jake) Howell, Defendant Hopkins discharged his firearm at Houck.”
Video footage from that night, according to the Houck family complaint, shows Hopkins and another officer advancing towards Houck, shooting a steady stream of bullets from their handguns, “stopping their advance only to reload,” the suit states.
The document further alleges that Houck can be heard on video howling a primal scream as he is being shot.
“By the officers’ reports, by the location of the bullets holes on the wall and railing, and by the location of Houck’s body and blood from his wounds, he had tried to get back into the house, but died at the door,” said the civil suit.
The suit further alleges that Houck was hit nine different times.
The suit claims, in one video, Hopkins can be heard yelling at Houck to drop the rifle and became enraged as he advanced towards him, yelling, “I’ll (expletive) kill you!” as he unloaded at least two magazines of bullets at Houck, who howled in pain.
In the same officer’s video, the shooting stops and Hopkins can be heard saying, “cover me.” By reports, he climbed the embankment to get to Houck’s body, according to the suit, which also alleges that bruises found on Houck’s body at the autopsy “suggest Hopkins beat or kicked Houck while getting the rifle from him.”
Hopkins’ answer said the video recordings and incident reports “speak for themselves,” and denied any allegations inconsistent with either, and specifically denied beating or kicking Houck.
The Houck’s complaint also alleges other officers tried to calm Hopkins following the shooting, “who remained very agitated,” and that at some point Hopkins had said that another officer told him “that Houck had previously stated that he would kill the police if they ever came to his house.”
Hopkins denied those claims in his response and said he did not remember hearing or making such a statement.
The most recent action in the case came in July, when both parties consented to a “joint stipulation of consent to jurisdiction by US Magistrate Judge.”
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.
The former home of Mark Houck.