A former New Hanover County sheriff's deputy was charged with second-degree murder Monday in the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager accused of stealing PlayStation 3 video game systems, the district attorney said.
Cpl. Christopher Long, 34, was indicted in the death of 18-year-old college student Peyton Strickland, who was shot Dec. 1 when deputies and police from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington raided a house he shared with roommates.
Officers knocked on the front door and watched through a window as Strickland walked away from the door. Long fired his gun after an officer used a battering ram to knock on the door, which Long misidentified as gun shots from inside the house, District Attorney Ben David said during Long's first court appearance Monday.
"When the ram hit the door, he thought it was gunfire," David said. "His belief that there was gunfire coming from the inside out was not shared by others."
Defense attorney Michael McGuinness said Long made a split-second decision and the shooting was "within the course and scope of his official duties."
Strickland and two friends, Braden Riley and Ryan Mills, were suspected of beating a UNC Wilmington student and robbing him of two PlayStation 3s worth more than $600 each in November.
According to search warrants, authorities believed the raid would be a high risk because of pictures on the Internet that showed Mills posing with guns, and UNC Wilmington police said they had received information Mills was known to carry a weapon.
Strickland didn't have a weapon, David said.
An autopsy report said the fatal bullet hit Strickland in the head after hitting another object. Strickland also was shot near his right shoulder.
Officers also shot Strickland's German shepherd, who bled to death outside the house.
"This indictment is an important first step in holding accountable everyone responsible for Peyton's death — but this is only a first step," his parents, Don and Kathy Strickland, said in a written statement. "None of these actions can bring Peyton back to us, but perhaps they can save someone else's child."
New Hanover County Sheriff Sid Causey said Long, a 12-year veteran of the sheriff's office, had been a good officer. Long was fired last week.
"It's a tough case. A family has lost its son. I would ask you to keep them in your prayers, also law enforcement," Causey said. "We're human beings and we make mistakes."
Several members of Long's family were in the courtroom Monday. Long has lived in the area his entire life and is a married father of two children who has taught law enforcement classes at a local community college, McGuinness said.
"He owns a home, but can't live in that home because he has been subjected to death threats. He is widely known, respected and loved in the law enforcement community as well as the general community," the attorney said.
Long cooperated with the investigation and volunteered to testify before the grand jury but wasn't allowed, McGuinness said.
Superior Court Judge Ernest Fullwood reduced Long's secured bond from $250,000 to $50,000. Long was expected to spend the night in jail.
Two other sheriff's deputies placed on leave after the raid _ Detective Larry Robinson, 34, and Sgt. Greg Johnson, 39 — were cleared in the shooting, David said.
Riley, 21, of Apex, and Mills, 20, of Durham, have been charged with armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and breaking and entering a motor vehicle in the PlayStation 3 thefts. They were arrested after the raid.
Riley was Strickland's roommate, while Mills lived at another residence.