Family Wants Answers After Officers Kill Pallbearer

Witnesses say officers called Jason Arnie Owens' name and shot him dead
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 9, 2022 7:36 AM CDT
Family Wants Answers After Officers Kill Pallbearer
A heavy police presence is on the scene of a Nutter Fort, W. Va., funeral home on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, after an officer-involved shooting of a fugitive suspect occurred in the funeral home's parking lot.   (Josiah Cork/The Exponent via AP)

Jason Arnie Owens helped carry his father’s casket to the hearse, then turned to embrace a relative. He never made it to the cemetery. As mourners gathered outside a Nutter Fort, West Virginia, funeral home on Aug. 24, two plainclothes officers with a fugitive warrant swooped in from separate vehicles, called Owens' name and shot him dead, spattering his 18-year-old son's shirt with blood as horrified loved ones looked on. "There was no warning whatsoever,” family friend Cassandra Whitecotton said. In the blink of an eye, stunned friends and family already mourning one loved one lost another. Now, they want answers—not just why Owens was shot but why the encounter happened the way it did.

Law enforcement officials aren't explaining much right now, citing an ongoing investigation. Owens, 37, was wanted on a fugitive warrant, but the US Marshals Service hasn't said what it was for. The agency also said in a statement that he had a gun when members of a fugitive task force approached. But Whitecotton and others who stood just feet away said Owens was unarmed, had been hugging his aunt, Evelyn O'Dell, and was fired on immediately after his name was called. Witnesses also dispute the US Marshals' assertion that first aid was performed right away, before emergency medical services arrived, reports the AP.

"They yelled Jason’s name. They just said 'Jason' and then started firing,” Whitecotton said. “There was no identifications they were US Marshals—anything. ... Never once they touched him to render any aid whatsoever.” As relatives prepared for services Friday for Owens, a state police investigation of the shooting was underway. But patience in the community is wearing thin. Relatives and supporters protested outside the Harrison County Courthouse last week, accusing law enforcement authorities of overreach. It’s not clear whether video exists from police bodycams, a police vehicle dashboard, or the funeral home itself.

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Unlike major cities where detailed incident reports and video footage are released after fatal police shootings—sometimes within hours—that rarely happens in West Virginia. State law exempts police from having to release video footage during an investigation. And the US Marshals Service office said it did not write a detailed incident report about the shooting. Owens had been in trouble with the law before. He was sentenced in 2018 to three to 13 years in prison for fleeing a Harrison County sheriff’s deputy and trying to strangle him during a scuffle. He was released on parole in April 2021. His cousin tells the AP he committed a parole violation "for not checking in just once. And that’s why he promised his mom after the funeral he would turn himself in."

(More funeral stories.)

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