Two Mooresville police officers who fatally shot Chris Craven last summer after they say he pulled a gun — an account disputed by the dead man’s wife — will not face criminal charges, a special prosecutor announced Friday.
In a statement, Randolph County District Attorney Andy Gregson said officers Alexander Arndt and Christopher Novelli reasonably feared for their lives when they fired dozens of shots with high-powered rifles at Craven during an Aug. 2 confrontation outside his Mooresville home.
“It is clear from all of the evidence that at the time Officers Arndt and Novelli fired their duty rifles they were presented with an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury from the actions of Mr. Craven,” Gregson said in summarizing the findings of a State Bureau of Investigation report.
“It is also clear from the evidence that the officer’s application of deadly force was reasonable and necessary in response to this threat.”
According to Craven’s autopsy and an accompanying medical examiner’s report, the 38-year-old parts department employee for Rick Hendrick’s NASCAR racing team was hit with at least 15 .223-caliber bullets.
Police say Craven, who grew up two doors down from where he died, was wearing a holster. Gregson said in his statement that a 9mm pistol, which Craven had legally purchased in 2016, was found on some stairs near his body.
Under North Carolina and federal law, police are legally entitled to use deadly force if they reasonably perceive a imminent threat of death or serious injury to themselves, other officers or the public at large.
The language, along with other factors, makes prosecution of police exceedingly rare. On average, law enforcement officers kill about 1,000 people a year. According to Philip Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University and a former cop, only 131 officers have been arrested on charges of murder or manslaughter for on-duty shootings since 2005. Fewer than half that number have been convicted at trial, often for a lesser charge, he says.
Amy Craven told the Observer earlier this month that, on the night he died, her husband was having a mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic. He was following police commands when he was shot, she said.
“My husband did not pull a gun and he was complying with orders,” Amy Craven said in a post on May 21 on the Mooresville Police Department’s Facebook page. “Chris was shot with his hands in the air.”
She declined comment Friday.
The family’s attorney, Alex Heroy of Charlotte, told the Observer earlier this month that bodycam video released to the family shows police were 20-25 feet from Craven when the fusillade began, sending bullets slamming into the exterior walls of the home in which Amy Craven and two of the couple’s children were housed.
At least one of the bullets reached the interior of the home and slammed into a fire extinguisher, which exploded, Heroy said.
As silence surrounds a fatal police shooting, a family and small NC town seek answers
Gregson, in his statement, said police were responding to a “highly volatile and dangerous situation for them and the occupants of Mr. Craven’s home.
“They were informed that Mr. Craven had committed a domestic assault. The officers had information that two adult females and two children were in the home. They were informed that Mr. Craven was suicidal and acting irrationally.”
Craven, according to Gregson, can be heard on the 911 call “threatening to kill himself, and the small children can be heard begging him not to and telling Craven that they love him.”
According to Gregson, bodycam video shows Arndt and Novelli ordering Craven to put his hands up and to get on the ground.
Craven, according to Gregson, continued to walk. He raised his hands briefly in response to the police commands, then put them down to his sides.
“Both involved officers stated that they then saw Craven reach into his waistband with his right hand and pull out a pistol,” Gregson said.
A change in prosecutors
Gregson took over the investigation earlier this month after Iredell County District Attorney Sarah Kirkman unexpectedly recused herself from the case.
The veteran Iredell prosecutor stepped aside after Craven’s family complained about a Facebook photograph posted by her office in May that showed the prosecutor posing at a community event with Mooresville police officers — including Novelli and Arndt. Kirkland was wearing a “Back the Blue” T-shirt at the time.
Kirkman told the Observer after her recusal that she handed off the Craven investigation to Gregson to avoid “even the appearance of any conflict.”
Gregson, the top prosecutor in adjoining Randolph County, is a former High Point police attorney and military prosecutor who took over the case about two weeks ago.
His decision upholding the legality of the officers’ actions is almost certain to add fuel to a community debate in Mooresville over Craven’s death — a debate reflecting America’s ongoing examination of the use of deadly force by police, the ability of officers to handle a mental health crisis, even the objectivity of prosecutors in cases involving cops.
Up to now, the police account has dominated the narrative surrounding Craven’s death. Bucking a nationwide trend toward greater transparency in cases of officer-involved shootings, no police video has been released to the public in the 10-plus months since the shooting. Under North Carolina law, only a judge can order the video’s release.
Gregson’s report is the first time Arndt and Novelli have been publicly identified as Craven’s shooters. The Observer previously reported that the officers’ names appeared on a March petition by Craven’s family for bodycam video.