SBI investigating after officer shot, killed Army vet holding gun

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GASTONIA, N.C. -- Family members got their first look inside a Gastonia home Monday after a police officer shot and killed an armed 74-year-old Army veteran inside.

Channel 9 found court documents that show firefighters forced James Allen's door open Saturday night during a welfare check. The police chief said an officer fired his weapon after Allen pointed a gun at him. 

Family members said they are devastated by what happened.

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"I think that he probably thought somebody was breaking in his house or robbing him of something," said the victim's sister, Mary Battle.

She is in disbelief over the shooting. She said her brother, who fought in the Korean War, was recovering from heart surgery. Police said they went to the home to do a welfare check after relatives in Anson County alerted the authorities there.

Channel 9 found the Gastonia Police Department did 531 welfare checks in 2014 alone. On Saturday night, officers came to the residence twice but could not get anyone to come to the door.

"The thing I questioned is why make a wellness call at midnight?" said neighbor Gene Clark.

Clark told police Allen was hard of hearing and he had not seen him since the day before. According to a search warrant, police claim the 74-year-old approached both police and firefighters holding a gun after they made entry into his home.

That's when Officer Josh Lefevers fired his weapon.

"There should have been a better way to handle this. Something else could have been done," Battle said. "I'm so mad; I'm hurt. I'm hurt."

Court documents said police recovered three shell casings from the home, along with a .22-caliber revolver. Clark said he knows police have a right to protect themselves but also understands the family's concerns.

"It goes both ways. I really don't know. All I know is he was a good man," Clark said.

Family and friends of Allen are questioning if his killing could have been avoided.

They want to know if it was necessary for police to use deadly force after they gained entry into Allen's home and found him standing there, holding a gun.

Scott Maclatchie is a Charlotte attorney and a veteran Los Angeles police officer.

He said when it comes to conducting welfare checks, the law in North Carolina is clear.

“The law is very clear that a law enforcement officer may use deadly force to defend himself when they’re confronted with what appears to be an eminent threat,” Maclatchie said

It's the officer's job to use force to get inside the home, if they've made every effort to get the person to come to the door, he said.

(The information below was originally posted Sunday)

The State Bureau of Investigations is now looking into the killing of a 74-year-old Army veteran shot by a Gastonia police officer.

Mary Battle said she learned about her brother's death while watching the news Sunday.

IMAGES: Scene of officer shot, killed Army vet holding gun

She said James Allen was an Army veteran and had heart surgery last week.

Mary Battle said family members in Anson County contacted authorities after they were unable to reach Allen. 

Gastonia police first arrived at Allen's door just before 10:30 p.m. Saturday, but they said no one answered.

RAW: Family member says Army veteran 'wouldn't hurt a fly'

Authorities returned an hour later and entered Allen's home through the back door.

They said he was standing there holding a gun.

"Announcements were made that police were on scene, he was challenged to lay the gun down. The gun was pointed at direction of officers and a shot was fired that fatally wounded him," said Gaston Police Chief Robert Helton.

"Maybe the police was frightened, maybe they were. I don't know, but he wouldn't hurt a fly," said Mary Battle.

Gastonia police said Officer Josh Lefevers fired that fatal shot.

He's been on the force since 2012 and is now on paid administrative leave.

Allen's family and friends are sickened over the killing, and they want to know how something so like this could have happened to him.

"(He) probably woke up, someone's breaking in on me, so when you're by yourself you try to protect yourself," said Allen's brother-in-law Robert Battle.

"You kicked the man's door in. He's disoriented and he's in his own house, privacy of his own home; my first reaction would be to grab a gun, too," said Allen's friend Otis Thompson.

Timeline of events on Saturday, Feb. 7.

  • 10 p.m.
    Family of James Allen asked police to conduct a welfare check on Allen. 
    Anson County officials contacted the Gastonia Police Department to conduct the check.
  • 10:20 p.m.:
    An officer went to Allen's home on Mary Avenue. There was no answer when he knocked on the door.
  • 11:08 p.m.:
    Anson County started a check of local hospitals. They could not find Allen.
  • 11:30 p.m.:
    Police called for County EMS and Gastonia Fire Department about a possible death inside Allen's home.
    Officer Lefevers announced his presence and entered the home.
    Allen approached him with a gun and Lefevers shot and killed him.

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