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Southwest Virginia deputy not charged after officer-involved shooting kills 16-year-old suspect

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Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 2:14 AM EDT
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APPALACHIA, Va. (WJHL) — Nearly two months after an officer-involved shooting that left a 16-year-old suspect dead, officials revealed details of the incident that hospitalized a deputy with severe stab wounds to the neck, according to CBS affiliate WJHL.

Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp said in a briefing Tuesday morning that Deputy Robert Robinson will not be charged for the July 17th shooting and that the investigation found he was acting in self-defense.

The Virginia State Police Bureau of Investigation independently examined the evidence surrounding the shooting along with the events that led up to it in a remote coal mining area of the Dunbar community.

A timeline of events, per the Commonwealth’s Attorney, is provided below:

July 17, 2021

  • 6:41 a.m. — The Wise County Sheriff’s Office receives a report of a missing male child from his parents. The parents also mentioned a stolen or missing 2015 white Chevy Equinox.
  • 6:58 a.m. — A missing 13-year-old girl was reported missing from her residence in Big Stone Gap.

Two Wise County deputies began an attempt to find the missing minors — Deputy Sturgill and Deputy Robinson. They spent the morning speaking with family and witnesses, gathering information. Police learned from a witness that both children were believed to be together in the area. The search and investigation continued.

  • 2:19 p.m. — A community member calls the Wise County dispatch claiming to see a white vehicle in the Pine Bridge area near Route 603. The caller said it appeared someone had tried to hide the vehicle with tree limbs. The same caller also said there appeared to be a girl inside the car in “pretty bad shape” and that she “appeared to be harmed.”

According to Slemp, the Dunbar community is a remote, rural area of western Wise County with dirt roads and rough terrain. The area features overgrown brush, dense vegetation and winding side roads that separate steep hills.

  • 2:59 p.m. — Three deputies, including Robinson, responded to the scene where the vehicle was initially reported, but by the time the officers responded, it was nowhere to be seen. They then decided to split up into an abandoned coal mine property nearby to find the juveniles with the belief the girl had been harmed. Ambulances and rescue crews were dispatched at this time as well.
  • 3:10 p.m. — Robinson found a vehicle that matched the original description — a white Chevy Equinox. At this time, the deputy notified dispatched and sent his location with exact GPS coordinates.

The investigation found that during this time, crews tried to locate Robinson, but the rough terrain and winding dirt roads complicated the search.

  • 3:10:57 p.m. — Moments after signaling to dispatch his location, Robinson’s body camera activated as he exited his vehicle near tall grass, with a male subject visibly facing his direction. For six minutes, Robinson waited in the overgrown vegetation for backup to arrive and continued to watch the suspect from a distance. He noticed the male juvenile covering the vehicle with brush and tree limbs.
  • 3:16 p.m. — Robinson watched as the male juvenile disappeared from his view. The recording depicts Robinson saying, “He took off on me. I’m going after him.” The Commonwealth’s Attorney noted that at this point, Robinson had probable cause to arrest the male subject.
  • 3:16:54 p.m. — Robinson made verbal and visual contact with the suspect for the first time. The deputy said, “Stay put; show me your hands,” as the boy sat in the vehicle.
  • 3:17:02 p.m. — Robinson asked him to open the door.
  • 3:17:11 p.m. — The deputy places one handcuff on the suspect’s left arm and requests he “comes on out” of the vehicle.
  • 3:17:15 p.m. — The door fully opens at this point as the suspect stands up and continues to reach back to the driver’s seat of the vehicle.
  • 3:17:16 p.m. — Robinson told the suspect, “Show me your hands,” as the suspect’s right arm remained in the vehicle. Robinson then asked, “What do you got?” as the boy came out of the vehicle with a knife.
  • 3:17:22 p.m. — The suspect used the knife in a single motion to attack Robinson, VSP’s investigation found.

VSP determined from body camera footage that this first attack sent the deputy 10 feet downhill, with the suspect landing on top of him.

  • 3:17:36 p.m. — Robinson shot a single shot. The fighting stopped, the investigation found.
  • 3:18 p.m.— Robinson called dispatch to report shots fired — a single shot. He said that he had been stabbed and was bleeding with severe injuries. He administered self-aid as other first responders attempted to rush to the secluded location. At this time, Robinson, while applying pressure to his neck wounds, returned to his car to drive himself to safety.
  • 3:28 p.m. — Two deputies located Robinson and began immediately to administer first aid.
  • 3:31 p.m. — Robinson was airlifted to Johnson City Medical Center (JCMC).

Upon his arrival at JCMC, Robinson was admitted into the Intensive Care Unit. He had sustained five stab wounds and lacerations to his face, neck, ear and head. According to Slemp, Robinson suffered from severe blood loss and was given 500mL of blood and 200cc of plasma among other treatments. Robinson received more than 30 staples and more than 40 stitches — one physician said Robinson needed so many that hospital staff stopped counting.

As units were arriving at the scene after the shooting incident, VSP found that the 13-year-old passenger, who had remained in the vehicle, had been able to make a call to dispatch and reported she was uninjured. The girl mentioned on the call that the 16-year-old suspect was outside.

During an interview with VSP, the girl said that as the incident happened, she remained in the vehicle with her head down and her hands over her head. She said she knew the suspect had knives in the vehicle.

  • 3:52 p.m. — A deputy made first contact with the suspect, who was lying on the ground with the knife still in his hand. The deputy removed the knife and checked the boy’s pulse and then waited for VSP to arrive.
  • The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.

You can see Slemp deliver the full series of events in the stream below:

Slemp said that Robinson continues to recover from the July 17th incident.

Wise County Sheriff Grant Kilgore also commented on the incident during the news conference stating he supported the actions taken by Deputy Robinson and that he followed protocol.

“The offender, for reasons unknown, attempted to murder Deputy Robinson on July the 17th. Deputy Robinson attempted other methods of force by trying to take the knife away from him and was ultimately forced to apply deadly force to save his own life,” said Kilgore.