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Officers placed on administrative leave following Houck shooting return to duty

Originally published: Jan. 8, 2013
Last modified: Jan. 8, 2013

Adam Orr

Two Ashe County Sheriff's Deputies and a West Jefferson Police Officer placed on administrative leave following a shooting in November that left Laurel Springs resident Mark Houck dead, have returned to duty according to Ashe County Sheriff James Williams and West Jefferson Chief of Police Jeff Rose. 

ACSO Deputies Joshua Hopkins, and Jeremy Munday in addition to West Jefferson Police Officer Jake Howell, returned to active status on Jan. 6, according to Rose.

“This was my call (to return them to duty),” said Williams. “We've had them in counseling (since the shooting) and we kind of left it up to them as to when they felt ready to return, but our target date was after the first of the year. It's really a tough situation, and it's not good to sit around and think about things. I discussed it with ( Hopkins and Munday) and asked them if they were ready to come back to work and they said they were.” 

Rose said he made a similar decision with Howell. 

While on administrative leave, Williams said the deputies have worked with a Forsyth-based psychologist in an effort to ensure the officers are mentally ready to return to work. Each officer was also required to re-qualify with his sidearm. 

“The way qualifications work, is you have to qualify on the weapon that you carry,” said Rose. “Their weapons are still with the SBI, and we issued him a new one, so he had to re-qualify.” 

The three officers were placed on administrative leave following their response to a report of a shooting at 543 Gaither Poe Road in Laurel Springs shortly after 11 p.m. on Nov. 19, according to ACSO Captain Carolyn Gentry. 

After arriving, the officers found Houck, 47, armed with a high-powered rifle and scope, according to Gentry, who said the officers identified themselves and ordered Houck to put down his weapon. 

Houck refused and pointed the weapon at the officers who then opened fire and killed him, according to Gentry. 

All officers involved were placed on administrative leave with pay pending the completion of the investigation conducted by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. At presstime, that investigation continues.

Rose and Williams each said they had not been in contact with the SBI concerning the status of the investigation, though Williams said he thought the agency may be nearing completion of its investigation. 

“I don't know if (the investigation results) been turned over to the district attorney or not,” said Williams. “I think they were almost done, though I don't know that for certain.” 

When contacted by the Ashe Mountain Times on Jan. 8, SBI Special Agent Chris Laws said he could make no comment on the status of the SBI's investigation and referred all questions to Public Information Officers Noelle Talley and Jennifer Canada. Neither were immediately available for comment at presstime.

In a Nov. 21 statement, Williams expressed his “complete confidence in all the officers involved,” and said he was satisfied they followed department policy and their training protocols.”

“Our hearts go out to the victim's family,” said Williams, “as well as to our officers and departments involved.”

For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.