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Family of combat veteran killed by Alabama deputy announces intent to file lawsuit

Jonathan Pears, a combat veteran. (Kirsten Fiscus/Montgomery Advertiser/TNS)

Mary Pears was trying to save her son the night he was shot and killed by Elmore County Sheriff’s deputies.

Jonathan Pears, 32, had a loaded gun and his mother feared he was going to use it against himself. The combat veteran, who struggled with PTSD and had recently returned from a stay at an inpatient psychiatric unit, was in a crisis.

He needed help, his mother said Monday during a news conference, so she called 911 on the evening of July 28.

The events that followed will soon be under scrutiny as the family, represented by attorney Julian McPhillips, promises to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the sheriff’s office and the unnamed deputy who fired the shots. Once Pears’ parents are established as administrators of his estate, the lawsuit can be filed, McPhillips said.

‘He was my baby’

Pears had a loaded handgun when his mother called authorities, but while still on the phone with a dispatcher, she was able to retrieve the firearm and lock it away in a bedroom, she said.

“One of the first things I told the 911 operator was that he is probably having a psychotic break,” Mary Pears said. “He was my baby, so I made that 911 call and stayed on the phone and I updated them and told them he was unarmed. Yes, the situation was still volatile, but I told them he was unarmed.”

Pears continued to plead with the dispatcher to send an ambulance, she said.

“They said ‘they’re almost there, coming through the woods,’ ” Pears recounted. “And I asked ‘why are they coming through the woods? Come through the front door. He’s unarmed.’ “

Elmore County Sheriff Bill Franklin said his deputies were still operating under the assumption that Pears was armed with a gun when they responded.

Pears’ father, Andy, went outside to meet the deputies as they arrived.

“They told me to put my hands up so I did,” he said. “Someone came from behind me and pulled my arm back behind me, then I got thrown to the ground and cuffed.”

As a deputy was assisting the elder Pears to sit up, the father looked over to see his son in the front yard with a large knife in his hands.

Franklin said Pears could be heard on the 911 call telling his mother that he didn’t want to go back to an inpatient facility, a claim that Mary Pears corroborated.

“The son can be heard on the tape hollering, ‘I ain’t going back, I ain’t going back! Why did you call the law?’,” Franklin said the night of the shooting. “Our deputies responded, and a man was coming out of the house. We determined it was the father. The son came out a short time later armed with the knife.”

Moments later, Mary Pears heard deputies order her son to drop the knife three times. Andy Pears watched as his son was shot three times in the torso.

Jonathan Pears died on the front lawn.

‘911 tapes will answer all’

The Pears family wants to know why their son and brother, who was in the midst of a crisis, was treated with such contempt, they said earlier this week.

Why couldn’t the deputies use less lethal force, Mary Pears asked, or shoot to maim rather than kill? McPhillips echoed that question through out the news conference.

Andy Pears believes the fatal shots came from a deputy off in the woods line, an estimated 75 feet from his son.

Department policy for deputies answering a domestic violence call where a person is armed or said to be armed is to stop some distance from the location, Franklin said Monday.

“They are trained not to pull up in front of the house,” he said. “They are trained to approach the house from a distance so as to ascertain the circumstances of the call.”

The deputies responding to the call did not have body cameras, he said.

Franklin declined to offer specifics about the incident, citing the ongoing investigation.

The Chilton County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the shooting. It’s standard procedure to have an outside agency investigate officer-involved shootings. The findings of the investigation will be presented to a future session of the Elmore County Grand Jury.

“I think the 911 tape will answer all questions,” Franklin said.

Andy Pears, a retired Air Force colonel, also believes the caliber of bullet that killed his son was that of .223 rifle ammunition. Franklin, however, said he was shot with a handgun, not a rifle.

District Attorney Randall Houston called McPhillips’ comments about using tear gas or shooting Pears in the leg “laughable.”

“If you are threatening officers, or other people, officers are trained to shoot you until you are no longer a threat,” Houston said. “If you don’t want to be shot, then don’t threaten officers.”


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