Witness Says Dps Shooting Not Justified

Advertisement

Janice Worthington said she cannot understand why a Department of Public Safety Officer shot and killed her boyfriend during a traffic stop on Highway 87 south of Rye on Sept. 25.

DPS Spokesman Steve Volden said that Officer Jarom Lewis was in fear for his life when he fired three shots, one entering James Moreland's chest. He later died of his wound.

photo

James Moreland

Lewis' supervisor, DPS Sgt. John Whetten, the firearms instructor for DPS District 11, was on scene after the shooting and spoke to Lewis. Whetten insists Lewis acted in accordance with his training. While Lewis cannot discuss the incident, Whetten said he wants to debunk some of what he calls rumors about what occurred.

"Jarom told me he had no choice," Whetten said. "He said he waited until the last possible second."

Worthington maintains that the fatal shooting of her boyfriend was completely unjustified and Moreland never gave the officer a legitimate reason to kill him.

Varying accounts of the incident

photo

Janice Worthington says James Moreland was a patient, loving man who never raised his voice. She disputes the claim Moreland was belligerent toward DPS Officer Jarom Lewis in a traffic stop, which led the officer to shoot and kill Moreland. The incident is still under investigation.

Worthington, 46, and Moreland, 48, of Apache Junction were heading to Payson to stay at a friend's cabin in celebration of Moreland's birthday, Worthington told the Roundup.

"Jim was sleeping because he had worked that morning," Worthington said. "I noticed around Rye that I was being pulled over for speeding. I looked at my speedometer and I was going 78 miles per hour."

The dark blue passenger car had Pennsylvania plates. It was a gift Moreland bought for Worthington at an auction in Pennsylvania where his parents live.

"(Lewis) asked us for the license and registration," Worthington said. "Jim was in the passenger's seat and was handing the documents to him."

Worthington said Lewis then asked her to step out to the rear of the car, where he began questioning her.

"He asked me if I knew why I was stopped," Worthington said. "I answered that I thought I may have been speeding. He said I was going 88 MPH and did I know that is a felony."

Worthington said Lewis then began asking if she and Moreland had been doing drugs and if they had any drugs or paraphernalia in the car.

"I said no and then he asked if he could search the car and I said he could," Worthington added.

Worthington said Lewis went to the passenger door and asked Moreland to get out of the car so he could conduct the search.

"Jim got out of the car and asked me if I gave (Lewis) permission to search the car," Worthington said. "He said to me, ‘you never tell them yes'."

Whetten said Lewis must have had some kind of indication that there may have been drugs in the car to ask consent to search the vehicle.

"Jarom has been to several drug interdiction schools and even paid to go to one in Chicago," Whetten said. "He knows all the things to look for that indicate there may be drugs in the car.

"In the last year, he made 20 stops, 19 of which were drug arrests and only one consent search yielded nothing."

The point of dispute

What happened next is where the stories diverge.

Worthington said that when Moreland got out of the car and began to question the search, she heard three gunshots and saw Moreland fall to the ground.

Whetten said his understanding was that Moreland got out of the car and started walking toward Lewis' patrol car in an angry state. A DPS press release described Moreland as "belligerent".

"Jarom said (Moreland) was extremely upset and, by the look in his eyes, he was going to have to fight him," Whetten said. "He turned around and walked back to the car. (Lewis) yelled at him not to return to the car and he continued toward the car. At that point (Lewis) had to draw his weapon and (Moreland) continued to disobey his commands to stop. We are trained that you never allow someone to go back to their car -- never."

Whetten said Moreland reached into the car and Lewis moved to try to see what he was reaching for, but couldn't get a good view.

"He said, ‘let me see your hands'," Whetten said.

Whetten said he was told that the way Moreland moved his upper body out of the car and turned toward the officer, Lewis believed he was about to be shot. The officer fired three shots, hitting Moreland once in the chest.

Worthington's account differs. She said Moreland never made a movement for something in the vehicle -- the action that allegedly got him shot.

"Jim had nothing in his hands and was not reaching for anything in the car," Worthington said. "Jim was not carrying any kind of weapon and there were no weapons in the car."

Worthington also disputes the claim that Moreland was "belligerent" and said he was a patient, loving man who never raised his voice.

Court records indicate that in 2002, Moreland was charged with assault and criminal damage. An Apache Junction municipal court found him guilty of criminal damage, but dropped the assault charge.

After her boyfriend collapsed, Worthington said Lewis then pointed the gun at her as she was running toward Moreland and ordered her to get on the ground.

"I crawled over to Jim to hold him," Worthington said. "I held him until the paramedics pulled me off him."

After Moreland was taken by air to John C. Lincoln hospital in Phoenix, Worthington was taken to the sheriff's office where she waited for several hours.

"No one would tell me how he was doing," Worthington said. "At around 12:30 a.m. some (DPS) detectives came to question me and I asked them how Jim was. They said, "Do you want to know how he's doing? He's dead."

She said detectives continued to question her until her daughter picked her up early the next morning.

Ongoing investigation

Special investigators from DPS said they are continuing their investigation which may take months and are saying little about the shooting.

Volden confirmed they had searched Worthington's car, but said no details about the investigation would be released because DPS does not want to taint a potential grand jury by trying the case in the press.

"They did find something in the car," Whetten said. "They will not tell anyone what it is. The officer knows, but he can't say anything and I understand."

A report of the investigation will be given to Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores who will decide whether or not to put the case before a grand jury for possible criminal charges.

It may be months before Worthington gets justice for her boyfriend, or Lewis is vindicated for his actions.

"I can't understand why the officer shot him," Worthington said. "He was no threat to anyone. I am having such a hard time dealing with this. This is a man I loved very much and he told me everyday how much he loved me."

Whetten said Lewis made every effort to prevent the shooting, but had to do what was necessary to protect his own life.

"All Mr. Moreland had to do was comply with the officer's repeated commands," Whetten said.

Lewis remains on paid administrative leave, awaiting a decision by the county attorney or a grand jury.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.