On July 8, 2015, multiple Ashe County, NC sheriff’s deputies responded to a 911 call about an intoxicated and agitated resident who had been the subject of dozens of prior police contacts. When the deputies found the 62 year old man, Dallas Shatley, parked in his pickup truck at the end of a shared driveway, they showed both professionalism and restraint in the face of an angry drunk with little respect for the law. Between them, the deputies had almost 40 years of law enforcement experience and they demonstrated that in trying to calm the subject.
The deputies were aware of an active “intense probation” order that prohibited Shatley from possessing firearms or consuming alcohol but, while talking to him and shining a flashlight into the pickup truck, they realized he had been drinking and had a rifle on the front passenger’s seat.
When the deputies spotted the rifle, Deputy Joshua Hopkins told Shatley that he was going to come around the pickup and put the rifle a short distance away, where the encounter could continue without the risk posed by the gun. The agitated Shatley began arguing and Hopkins said, “There’s a gun right there, and we are law enforcement, and you have consumed alcohol.” As Deputy Chris Roten began moving around the front of the truck to secure the rifle, Shatley’s right hand began moving toward the gun. Hopkins yelled, “Do not reach for it . . . Do not even go for that gun!” but Shatley was committed to dangerous action.
As Deputy Hopkins reached into the truck to prevent Shatley grabbing the rifle, Shatley started the truck and put it into reverse, stepping hard on the gas, with Hopkins hanging on for his life.
The truck revved loudly and lurched backward, pulling the deputy with it. Deputy Hopkins struggled to stay on his feet after disentangling himself from Shatley and the truck. Fearing Shatley’s next move against himself or the other deputies, Deputy Hopkins pulled his handgun and fired three times at the driver.
As the truck came to a stop a few feet away, both deputies commanded Shatley to stop and to show his hands. Instead, he managed to put the truck into drive and it rolled forward directly at Deputy Hopkins, who was now in front of the vehicle. Both deputies fired their weapons as the two ton vehicle moved toward Hopkins.
Deputy Joshua Hopkins had seconds to make fateful and fatal decisions as an armed, intoxicated, angry man intimidated his neighbors and chose to resist law enforcement commands to surrender a rifle he was prohibited from possessing. He used his pickup truck as a weapon against law officers and lost his life as a result.
Neighbor and witness descriptions painted a picture of a man who routinely terrorized others, including family members, and who had no regard for the law.
Despite the obvious reasonableness of the actions of three experienced law enforcement officers, a local district attorney sought and received an indictment of Joshua “Hoppy” Hopkins for second degree murder and other charges on September 28, 2016. That’s right – a district attorney took over a year to bring outrageous charges against a sheriff’s deputy who had just seconds to make life or death decisions.
No law enforcement officer should ever face criminal charges for doing just what their training and the law expects and allows. Joshua Hopkins now faces a grueling pre-trial period where he frets over his fate and agonizes over how to pay for his defense. His career as a law enforcement professional, and his life, is on hold.
As we have with so many others, the LELDF will stand with Joshua “Hoppy” Hopkins and do our very best to offset his mounting legal expenses. We’re committed to the support of officers just like him – those who fall prey to politics, to poor judgments, to prosecutors who ignore the rule of law and choose law enforcement as the enemy.
UPDATE – November 2017: We recently learned that Hoppy will have to endure a cloud of uncertainty hanging over his holidays as his trial has now been scheduled for early March 2018. In our estimation, that trial date, March 5th, can’t come soon enough to clear this deputy’s name and get him back to the work he loves.
We at LELDF were aided in our assessment of this case by seeing Hoppy on episodes of Southern Justice on the National Geographic channel. Decide for yourself whether you can conceive of this gentle giant intentionally doing harm in a way that violates the law. For us, the answer to that was easy.