Gastonia police department taking heat after unarmed woman shot by police

GASTONIA, N.C. — The Gastonia police chief says he has not talked to the officer Stephen Whisnant, who is still on administrative leave, after shooting an unarmed woman in her home Sunday night.

Chief Robert Helton said he is open to the idea of talking to Brittany Lynn, the woman who was shot by the first-year officer with her children yards away.

"We hate that this has happened,” Helton told Channel 9.

The district attorney called it an accidental shooting, but the chief wouldn't comment on the DA's assessment.

“I think it would be preliminary for me to give an opinion or come to any conclusions on what took place yet, because I have not seen everything and heard all of the statements,” Helton said.

Police went to the home on Gray Street to arrest Lynn’s brother, Jarvis Lynn, who was wanted on unrelated charges.

Lynn said she opened the door for Whisnant with her hands in the air and he open fired. Lynn was shot three times.

Helton said he is relying on the State Bureau of Investigation to sort out the details.

"I want them to be thorough. I want them to look at everything,” Helton said. “I want them to make sure that we have done everything that we should."

According to arrest warrants, Jarvis Lynn had a military .45 caliber pistol and refused to lower it, but his family members said he never had a gun in the house and didn't resist officers.

The Gastonia Police Department has taken a lot of heat from people who want Whisnant fired.

"Gastonia, you got some cleaning up to do,” activist John Barnett said.

"Our effort in the police department is to serve the entire community,” Helton said.

Helton said his department works on community outreach year-round, through clergy and inviting members of the community in to learn about policing.

He said the investigation will reveal any issues that have to be addressed.

"It's something we are going to have to work through, and of course, we will be accountable in the end for our actions,” Helton said.

There is body camera video of the shooting, but the SBI will review it send a report to DA.

The DA will determine if officer Whisnant should be charged.

The decision-making process could take hours or months depending on questions he has after receiving the report.

Investigators said Whisnant shot Lynn along Gray Street around 11:30 p.m. Sunday.

Witnesses told Channel 9 that Lynn ran out of the home yelling, "I was shot."

Lynn was taken to Caromont Hospital, where she was treated and released, authorities said.

Lynn said her daughter still quivers when she goes near the back door where there is still a bullet hole.

"When she looks at that back door, she just stares into space and then she jumps," Lynn said.

Resident Barbara Mack heard the shots from a block away.

"A pow, boom, boom, pow, and I hit the floor," Mack said.

We first updated WSOCTV news app users with a notification just after 6 a.m. Monday that the SBI was investigating this officer-involved shooting.

Download the WSOCTV news app for your smartphone and get updates on this developing story as they come in.

Channel 9 spoke with a man who said he is Lynn's father.

"So, as she opened the door and let them in, she got shot," Ricky Cole said.

He said his daughter was shot in the chest and told Eyewitness News that there were children inside the home at the time of the shooting.

“My grandson was in there,” Cole said. “All of my grandbabies in there -- just shot through the house with all them in there, my wife.”

Daniel Ramsey recorded a Facebook live video after the shooting from outside his parents’ home.

"They (police) hollered at somebody and I (saw) them take off running,” Ramsey said. “Another police (officer came) up and goes around to the back."

The SBI has been called to investigate the incident and the officer has been placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure following an officer-involved shooting.

The district attorney will receive the report about the shooting from the SBI and decide if the officer should be charged.

"I've been able to make a decision in a day, other times I have taken two years,” DA Locke Bell said. “It just depends on the information I need to make a complete decision."

The SBI said they are examining Whisnant's gun and the gun police said they took from Lynn.

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