The mother, father, and sister of an Afghanistan war veteran said today he was wrongfully shot to death by a deputy with the Elmore County sheriff’s office during a mental health episode caused by PTSD.
Jonathan Pears, 32, was killed in the front yard of his parents’ house in Wetumpka on July 28.
Elmore County Sheriff Bill Franklin said after the incident that Pears was shot when he approached deputies and his father with a machete and refused to drop it. Today, Franklin said the incident is under investigation and the findings would be presented to a grand jury.
Andy Pears, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, said he saw no imminent threat from his son before he was shot. He said the deputies had time to take action other than fatal gunshots.
Before the shooting, Andy Pears said the deputies told him to hold up his hands. He said he was handcuffed and pushed to the ground. He was not charged in the incident. He said he was then about 45 feet away from his son and saw him shot.
“My son was tragically shot from 75 feet,” Andy Pears said. “As a former commander of security forces, I know there’s many other ways to subdue a victim from this distance. This in no way characterized a professional police response.”
Andy Pears, spoke at a news conference at the office of Montgomery attorney Julian McPhillips with Mary Pears, Jonathan’s mother, and Kayleigh Pears, Jonathan’s sister.
McPhillips released a copy of a letter to Franklin asking for all videos, audios, photographs, official reports and other evidence about the incident.
Mary Pears said she called 911 the day of the shooting because her son was having a psychotic episode. She said she was afraid he would take his own life. She took a gun away from him before deputies arrived, she said.
“My son suffered awfully and horribly from PTSD,” Mary Pears said, pausing at times as she fought back sobs. “And that was one of the first things I said to the 911 operator, ‘My son suffers terribly from PTSD. He’s basically lost his mind right now. He’s probably having a psychotic break. He’s off his meds. We need help. I’m frightened.’
“I really thought my son would commit suicide. He did have a loaded pistol. He was delusional and he was erratic. But he was my son.”
Mary Pears said she was inside the house when she heard the deputies yelling for Jonathan to drop the machete.
“I heard them yelling, ‘Drop the … knife, get down, get down,’” she said. “And they said it maybe three times. And I heard, pop, pop, pop, and I immediately ran out. I heard my husband moaning. And I ran out and he was handcuffed near the driveway on the left-hand side of the house. And I said, ‘Why is my husband in handcuffs, did you shoot him?’
“And then I looked over and I saw my son, and I said, ‘Did you shoot him?’ And even when I heard the shots I thought OK, they shot to scare him, they shot his foot, they shot his arm. And he was just crumpled on the ground.”
Kayleigh Pears said she was heartbroken by her brother’s death, which came less than a week after Jonathan walked his mother down the aisle for Kayleigh’s wedding.
“My reaction to the situation is that this is not how we need to be responding to those that are mentally ill,” Kayleigh Pears said. “And if this is how we respond to those who are mentally ill, by shooting them down, then the system needs to be reformed, because the system is broken.”
Asked about the comments made at McPhillips’ office, today, Franklin said, “That’s not the first time Mr. McPhillips has filed something against law enforcement. I’m sure it won’t be the last time. I believe in this particular instance, there’s actually an ongoing investigation, and we’ll stand by that investigation and wait for those reports to be presented to a grand jury.
“And the people that represent the sheriff’s office I’m sure will probably get in touch with Mr. McPhillips office. And they’ll probably have several talks between both of them.
“But anytime you’ve got a loss of life that’s something we totally expect. I can understand their anguish and I can see where Mr. McPhillips is coming from.
“We’ll just let it play out and let the courts have it. That’s all we can do as a law enforcement entity. I’m not going to try it in the paper, so to speak.”
Franklin said the investigation is being done by the Chilton County sheriff’s office.
McPhillips requested a copy of the investigative report.
Andy Pears said his son spent six years in the Air Force and four years in civilian service with government agencies. Jonathan spent about four years in Afghanistan, his father said, and volunteered to serve with the Marines in the Helmand Province “which was a very, very rough neighborhood at that time.” Andy Pears said his son was awarded the Navy Commendation medal for his service.
“I know he had hallucinations about the Taliban coming after him,” Andy Pears said. “What he was thinking that day, we’ll never know. If I had even been allowed to stay up to intervene, I could have saved him. And to my dying breath, I’ll regret that I wasn’t able to do that.
“I respect our police and everything they do while maintaining the standards of the constitution,” Andy Pears said. “I believe in God, country, family and fighting for what’s right. I want justice for my son. Justice for Jonathan. He died underneath the flag I proudly fly in my yard.”
“We have to be John’s voice because he no longer has a voice,” Kayleigh Pears said.
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