Thursday, June 02, 2011

Franklin County sheriff’s actions under scrutiny after Memorial Day shooting

Sheriff Ewell Hunt did not appear to know he had an emergency on his hands.

State police investigators examine the scene beside Interstate 81 in Montgomery County on Wednesday where Jonathan Agee, suspected in the shooting death of his ex-wife, Jennifer Agee, fired on state police who tried to stop him.

Sam Dean | The Roanoke Times

State police investigators examine the scene beside Interstate 81 in Montgomery County on Wednesday where Jonathan Agee, suspected in the shooting death of his ex-wife, Jennifer Agee, fired on state police who tried to stop him.

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What's next for Jonathan Agee

Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney Don Caldwell said he will serve Jonathan Agee with a murder warrant when the deputy is released from Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.

If Agee remains hospitalized on Monday, when the city grand jury meets, Caldwell plans to seek a direct indictment charging Agee with murder, which would send the case straight to Roanoke Circuit Court without a preliminary hearing. Caldwell said a charge of shooting into an occupied vehicle is possible.

Additional charges related to Agee’s wounding of state police Sgt. Matthew Brannock, his confrontation with two other troopers and his attempt to elude police will be filed in Montgomery County, Caldwell said.

Audio: Listen to Sheriff Hunt's brief call to Salem PD

The latest: Agee faces attempted capital murder charges as Montgomery Co. vows prosecution 'to the fullest'  | Earlier today:   Sheriff Hunt to Salem police: 'You got a supervisor handy?'

The call that Franklin County Sheriff Ewell Hunt placed to a Salem Police Department dispatcher -- in the minutes before Jennifer Agee was shot to death on Memorial Day -- betrayed no sense of the crisis he was attempting to defuse, the Salem police chief said Wednesday.

"When he called dispatch at 11:18, he basically wanted to talk to a patrol supervisor," said Salem Chief Jeff Dudley.

Hunt identified himself as law enforcement when he called, Dudley said, but "there was no sense of urgency, and he did not indicate that there was any kind of emergency."

But Hunt did have an emergency. Dispatch logs show he was acting on a 911 call from the wife of Franklin County sheriff's Deputy Jonathan Agee, who had told the county sheriff's office her husband was on his way to Salem, armed with an assault rifle, to kill his ex-wife, Jennifer.

In a statement released late Wednesday, Hunt said he first got word that Jonathan Agee was armed, driving his county vehicle and in an "agitated state" when he was called by the deputy's father, Steve Agee, at 11:04 a.m.

Hunt, according to his statement, immediately attempted to call the deputy himself but did not reach him. About seven minutes later, the sheriff called Franklin County dispatchers and got more information.

"I can assure you that both myself and members of the Franklin County Sheriff's Office did everything possible, with the information that we had at the time, to alert the appropriate authorities as to the situation regarding Mr. Agee," Hunt said. "At no time did we ever have any indication that Mr. Agee was capable of such a horrific act."

On Tuesday, Hunt said he decided to call the Salem police himself -- instead of issuing a regional "be on the lookout" alert -- because "I thought I could get the fastest response by making personal contact."

Dudley said Salem's patrol supervisor was on an assignment when Hunt called, so Hunt's message was taken and returned 13 minutes later.

After the supervisor spoke with Hunt, Salem officers were notified and began looking for Agee, Dudley said. But by 11:30, Agee had reportedly already shot his ex-wife, miles away in the parking lot of the Sheetz store on Williamson Road in Roanoke.

Roanoke police officers, meanwhile, had no knowledge of Agee's threats or of the Franklin County 911 call before the shooting at Sheetz, according to Roanoke police Deputy Chief Tim Jones.

"We knew nothing of this incident," Jones said.

The details of Hunt's conversation with Salem's patrol supervisor remain unclear. Both the audio recording of Hunt's initial message, and a written account of his exchange with the sergeant, were turned over to Roanoke investigators, Dudley said.

It's not uncommon for neighboring law enforcement agencies to alert others of a potential threat, a wanted suspect or a stolen vehicle, said Tod Burke, a Radford University professor of criminal justice and a former police officer. Agencies often issue "be on the lookout" alerts with a description of the person of interest, what they're wanted for and whom to contact if they're spotted.

But smaller localities sometimes informally call neighboring law enforcement agencies rather than issuing an alert, Burke said. The danger with that approach, he said, is that it limits the information to a particular jurisdiction and assumes that someone will be there to take the call.

Jonathan Agee

Jonathan Agee

Jennifer Agee

Jennifer Agee


"That suspect or suspect vehicle could have gone beyond that area," Burke said. "If you don't give the 'be-on-the-lookout,' well, other people aren't looking out."

Roanoke Commonwealth's Attorney Donald Caldwell, whose office has filed a murder charge against Agee, said he was surprised by Hunt's actions. Presented with a warning that one of his deputies intended to kill his ex-wife, Hunt should have issued a thorough alert to other law enforcement agencies, Caldwell said.

"I've never heard of anything like this," he said.

Montgomery County Sheriff Tommy Whitt said his office usually would issue an alert before he was even notified.

An alert would be issued if the sheriff's office received "known confirmed information" about a potential threat, Whitt said. For example, he said, if a citizen in Riner reports a car coming toward Christiansburg swerving on the roadway, a dispatcher will immediately issue an alert.

U.S. Marshal Gerald Holt, who served as Roanoke County sheriff for 18 years, said that in a similar situation, he likely would have made a direct call to his colleagues in another jurisdiction, along with issuing a formal alert. But he added that he didn't have all the information about Monday's incident.

"I ... would not second-guess any decision," Holt said. "Sometimes you act with the best information you have."

In his statement Wednesday, Hunt said the information contained in the dispatch call logs paints an inaccurate portrait of his actions Monday.


Sheriff Hunt calls Salem PD

Video: Police provide details of violent day

Video by Ryan Loew | The Roanoke Times

"It is a summary of information relayed through dispatch, rather than what actually transpired," Hunt said.

By late Wednesday night, more than 743 people had joined a Facebook group called "Sheriff Ewell Hunt Must Resign," but Hunt said he had no plans to do so.

Staff writers Shawna Morrison, Amanda Codispoti, Janelle Rucker and Mike Gangloff contributed to this report.

Map: From Roanoke to Ironto, via Christiansburg

Police say Jonathan Agee fled the scene of his ex-wife's killing in Roanoke Monday and headed west on U.S. 460, toward Christiansburg. A state trooper caught his trail along the way. Here's how police say the rest of the day unfolded.

View Police: Off-duty Franklin Co. deputy kills ex-wife, injures state trooper after long-range pursuit in a larger map

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