Bringing a weapon to an area known for having a higher than normal “shots fired” is hardly overreacting. It’s called being prepared, but one officer with the Asheville Police Department was the subject of community criticism after he was seen carrying an AR-15 in public.
Officer Shalin Oza was responding to a woman from Asheville, North Carolina after she called 911 this week complaining that three teenagers were outside “waving a gun around” while walking along Cortland Avenue in Montford.
Officer Oza was familiar with the area of the complaint, and acted on the intelligence at hand. He arrived with two other officers and carried an AR-15 in the low ready position with his finger off the trigger and stood with a relaxed posture. We interpret this as your standard “don’t start no shit, won’t be no shit” scenario. Given the area and type of complaint, Asheville PD’s Patrol Division Commander Capt. Mark Byrd fully supports Officer Oza’s actions.
“Our focus always is public safety,” Byrd said. “We respond to situations with public safety in mind. We want to protect the safety of everyone in the community — it’s our job, it’s what we’re tasked with. Between Jan. 9-15, we had six different incidents of gunfire in Klondyke involving young black males of high school age,” Byrd continued. “We drew back, investigated that, and found out that was in relation to an incident at Asheville High School, and this was retaliatory actions related to that. So, the increased presence in the area was due to us trying to combat gun activity that’s taken place over recent weeks.”
Officer Oza stood at the ready while Officer Brandon Shope began questioning the teenagers. At this point, one of the teens started taking a video of the officers and posted it to Facebook. Public criticism followed almost immediately with viewers complaining the officer cross a line by bringing an “assault rifle” to talk to teenagers. Let’s not forget the officer was responding to a report of 3 armed teenagers waving a gun around. Nevertheless, a petition at change.org has already been filed calling for Officer Oza to be fired and more than 500 people have already signed it.
The teen’s weapon turned out to be a BB gun, but since few officers are currently equipped with ESP, all officers involved treated it like a true firearm until proven otherwise. “We only are privy to information the caller may provide at the time and what type of description they give us. When they talk about three individuals, one is waving a gun in the air, we have a person with a gun, we don’t know what type of situation we’re getting ourselves into,” Capt. Byrd said. “When you’re responding to an incident, you don’t know if the gun is real or not. If you go to a toy store and look at replicas, or BB guns, they’re almost identical to service weapons that we carry.”
The teens were released without charges but APD officers are following up with the Juvenile Justice Office. In response to complaints, the APD will be investigating the entire incident. While they have not yet released the officers’ body camera footage to the public, they have invited the teens’ mother to view the footage for herself.