DA: Newton Grove Police Chief Justified In Shooting

Photo by Thomas Honeycutt

By Emily Weaver
Dunn Daily Record

The Newton Grove police chief was justified in shooting an armed suspect during a struggle on June 15, according to District Attorney Ernie Lee.

Chief Greg Warren shot Michael Almer Rich, 48, three times in the parking lot of Sam’s Circle Mart while responding to a reported kidnapping and sexual assault call around 2:40 p.m.

Surveillance footage obtained and aired by WRAL shows Warren and Rich in a scuffle before Rich pulls something from his pocket. The video then cuts to the chief standing over Rich with his gun drawn before he bends down to pick up a second gun from the ground at Rich’s side.

The District Attorney’s Office, which covers Sampson County, requested the State Bureau of Investigation look into the shooting.

After reviewing the SBI’s findings and the video, “the shooting was justified because Rich’s actions caused Chief [Warren] … to reasonably believe it necessary to use deadly force to protect his life,” Lee said in a release.

Audio Of 911 Call

A caller to 911 said a woman in a Ford Focus asked her to call police, telling her Rich raped her and made her leave her home at gunpoint.

“Sam’s Circle Mart has a video camera that clearly captured the interaction between Chief Warren and Rich,” Lee said in his release. “The video does not have audio. The suspect, later identified as Michael Almer Rich, exited the store and the chief requested to speak with him. Rich continued to direct his attention toward the Ford Focus while speaking with the chief. Rich began walking away from the chief toward the Ford Focus and female.

Photo by Thomas Honeycutt

“In an attempt to prevent Rich from moving toward the Ford Focus and female, Chief Warren grabbed Rich’s left shoulder with his left hand. Rich turned toward the chief and with his right hand, Rich pulled a gun from under his shirt,” Lee said in the release. “Rich pointed the gun in the direction of Chief Warren’s face. Chief Warren pushed Rich’s gun away from him and then stepped back. He created a space between him and Rich and then fired three rapid shots at Rich. The video depicts Rich turning his side toward the chief after the first shot. Rich fell to the parking lot.” 

“… Chief Warren held Rich at gunpoint and radioed for medical assistance,” Lee noted in his release. “The video depicts a deputy with the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office then responding on scene. Chief Warren recovered Rich’s firearm that Rich had been holding and gave the weapon to the deputy. Rich’s firearm was a Smith & Wesson 9mm handgun that had eight rounds in the magazine and no rounds in the chamber. The evidence shows that Rich was shot three times, once in the chest and twice in the right side.”

Warren told the SBI “he was in fear of his life when Rich pointed his gun” at him, according to the release. “The evidence clearly shows that Rich was armed and a danger to the chief. The chief sustained no injuries.”

Rich was sent to the hospital and is now receiving treatment for his wounds in a detention center.

Photo by Thomas Honeycutt

He faces charges of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree sex offense, felony breaking and entering and possessing a firearm as a felon.

“Throughout the evening of June 15, 2021 and in the weeks since the shooting, I have remained in contact with the SBI about this investigation,” Lee said. “In addition, I have remained in contact with Acting Chief Sgt. Wendy Jones of the Newton Grove Police Department since June 15, 2021. On July 20, 2021, I received reports from the SBI related to this investigation and immediately began reviewing those reports. I have reviewed the video and consulted with SAC (Special Agent in Charge) Mitch Deaver and Assistant District Attorney Robert Thigpen. … Clearly, from the facts and circumstances of this case, the officer was justified in using deadly force to defend himself and others from death or great bodily injury.”

Lee continued, “A federal judge in North Carolina has ruled that ‘it is the duty of a law enforcement officer to stand his ground, carry through on the performance of his duties, and meet force with force, so long as he acts in good faith and uses no more force than reasonably appears necessary to effectuate his duties and save himself from harm.’ Law enforcement officers are required to instantaneously evaluate and employ force against possible criminal suspects to thwart apparent dangers to citizens and themselves. Officers must perceive, evaluate, decide, and then act often in a matter of seconds.” 

Lee said, “Chief Warren perceived an apparent threat, evaluated the situation in split seconds, made a decision and acted. Chief Warren’s actions appear reasonable under all the circumstances of this case.”