Tension Mounts: Officers Kill Suspect
The search for a suspect wanted in connection with a shooting in Dunn on Tuesday came to a violent end yesterday, when police tried to serve a warrant on the suspect at a house just five blocks from the police department, and ended up shooting him. He died a short time later at Betsy Johnson Regional Hospital.
The suspect, 19-year-old Matthew Leon Burris of Dunn, was wanted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury with intent to kill, shooting a firearm into an occupied vehicle and discharging a firearm in the city limits in connection with the shooting Tuesday.
In that incident, Alex Huffman, 17, of Dunn was critically wounded, and as of yesterday was listed in critical but stable condition at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.
There are suspicions that shooting was gang-related.
According to Interim Police Chief B.P. Jones, police responded about 2 p.m. yesterday to an anonymous tip that Mr. Burris was at a home at 601 N. Magnolia Ave., on the corner of North Magnolia and East Carr Street.
"We had reliable information he was there and when they went to serve the warrant all hell broke loose," Chief Jones said. "The guy that was shot was the suspect who did the shooting Tuesday. The female lead detective grabbed him and he pulled a gun out and two of the back-up officers shot him.
"Officers did attempt to offer CPR to him and he was alive when he left in the ambulance, but he died about (2:45 p.m.) at the hospital," the chief said.
Witness: Burris Unarmed
Tensions were high on the scene as rumors spread that Mr. Burris was unarmed and had been shot through a window by an officer outside the home. Witnesses said they heard three shots.
A visibly upset Ruth Watson, who identified herself as Mr. Burris' "aunt," rents the home where the incident occurred. She said there were children in the yard when the shooting happened, including a 9-month-old girl on the front porch with her mother.
She said Mr. Burris was at her house visiting and she never saw him with a gun.
"He didn't have no gun that I saw and I know he didn't have one when they shot him," Mrs. Watson said.
"I came to the door and Officer Autry asked me who was in there with me," she said. "When he came to the door of the bedroom, she just ran towards him and he jerked away from her. She tried to grab him again and he shook her off ..."
Mrs. Watson said the next thing she knew the house was swarming with officers trying to take Mr. Burris down.
"He fell against the heater and then they tried to wrestle him and that man shot him," she said. "The man that shot him was on the outside."
Thirteen-year-old Dakim Watson, Mrs. Watson's son, said when Mr. Burris saw the officers he attempted to go back into the bedroom.
"He tried to go back in the room and then she kicked down the door and somebody kicked out the screen and put a gun through," he said. "They shouted, 'Move, Regina,' and started shooting."
A neighbor, who refused to give her name, said a little boy who was in the house ran next door to 504 N. Magnolia Ave., where he told occupants police shot a man while he was trying to turn himself in. Neighbors said the boy told them Mr. Burris said, "Don't shoot!" and police shot him three times.
The neighbor also said Mrs. Watson told her Mr. Burris did not have a gun, did not try to reach into his pocket or do anything threatening, and was trying to obey police instructions.
Contrary to these accounts, Chief Jones said officers recovered a weapon at the scene. He said he did not believe Mr. Burris fired the weapon.
Chief Jones said the allegation that Mr. Burris was shot through the window is untrue, to the best of his knowledge.
"No shots were fired through the window," he said. "He drew his weapon and they shot him face to face."
As of this morning, Chief Jones said no officers have been placed on administrative leave and the investigation has been handed over to the SBI. Yesterday, the chief said he did not wish to release the names of officers involved in the shooting while the investigation continues, for fear of retribution.
Chief Jones said department policy on officers drawing their weapons was followed in yesterday's shooting.
"... (An) officer should only draw his weapon to protect his or her life or the life of someone else," he said. "In this case, they were protecting their own life.
"They are trained to shoot at the suspect, at whatever part of the body they can hit when circumstances allow," he said.
Police had been looking for Mr. Burris since Tuesday when he was identified as the shooter in the incident on Pearsall Street in Dunn. According to witnesses, Mr. Burris was waiting on the corner and shot Mr. Huffman in the torso as he was riding in a car.
Chief Jones said Wednesday police had information which led them to believe both men were involved in opposing Crips and Bloods gangs.
In a new development which came to light yesterday, Chief Jones said Mr. Burris was also being served with a warrant in connection with a July 22 gang rape.
Mr. Burris' brother, 17-year-old Joshua Paul Burris, was charged in the rape case Tuesday when Sampson County deputies went to his home after noticing a car being sought by Dunn Police in connection with Tuesday's shooting.
In the rape case, an 18-year-old Dunn woman was raped by several men at the home of one of her relatives.
Detective Autry said at the time a total of six men were believed involved in the rape. To date, four men, including Mr. Burris, have been charged in the case, with two others apparently still being sought.
Meanwhile, Benson Police Chief Kenneth Edwards said Mr. Huffman had been arrested in Benson in May in connection with a gang beating involving eight other teens. Chief Edwards said Mr. Huffman told him in a videotaped interview then that he was worried because someone in Dunn had a "hit out on him."
According to Chief Edwards, one of the reasons for that was because as a former Crip, Mr. Huffman was attempting to represent himself as a Blood.