orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

Local News

July 28, 2010

Witness, Ranger explain Monday fatal shooting

ORANGE — A 28-year-old man's aggressiveness at an auto parts store led to his shooting Monday by an off-duty police officer, according to a state investigator. But a friend of the man disputed he was acting aggressively and claims the officer never identified himself before firing the fatal shoot.

James Whitehead died after being shot in the parking lot of O'Reilly Auto Parts on Monday afternoon. The Orange police officer involved in the shooting, Capt. Robert Arnold, was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the Texas Rangers, according to Police Chief Sam Kittrell.

Witnesses say Whitehead, who is white, used racial slurs toward Arnold, who is black, during a confrontation inside the store. But Rangers Sgt. Ken Parks said yesterday those epithets had "nothing to do" with the shooting.

“I want to clear that up right now,” Parks said. “Racial comments simply had nothing to do with it. The outcome came from the victim being aggressive towards the officer.”

Randy Edwards, who accompanied Whitehead to the store, said he never saw his friend act aggressively.

"I never (saw) James show aggression," said Edwards. "I'll never forget that. I couldn't believe what I saw. James was excited that day and happy."

Edwards said he's known Whitehead "since he was in diapers," and the two lived next door to each other in West Orange. Whitehead was finishing work on his truck Monday when he walked over to ask Edwards for a ride to the store.

Whitehead needed to replace the truck's starter and wanted to return another part, a $160 EGR valve, which is part of the truck's emissions system. A store employee told Whitehead he could not accept the valve, Edwards said.

"James told the employee he could not afford the starter he needed if they did not take the part back," he said.

Edwards said, "James picked the part up and slammed it on the counter."

A store employee called police, and Edwards said the off-duty officer confronted Whitehead.

"James even asked if he was with the police department, and the man did not reply," Edwards said. "James told him to, 'Stay out of my business,'" adding a racial epithet.

Parks, the Rangers investigator, said witnesses told him the exchange then escalated. Arnold, a six-year veteran of the Orange police, also identified himself, Parks said.

"The officer did identify himself as an officer," said Parks. "The off-duty officer was going to arrest the victim, and that eventually led to him being shot. Racial slurs were made, and there was a lot of aggression by the victim."

But Edwards claims the off-duty officer never identified himself as such. Instead, after the exchange with Whitehead, the man left the store. Edwards and Whitehead exited shortly thereafter.

Edwards said Arnold confronted them in the parking lot, where he "came running up with a flashlight and handcuffs and told James to put them on."

Whitehead instead returned to Edwards' truck. Edwards said the man then pulled a gun "and waived it wildly."

“James sat in the truck, and the black male opened the door and told James, ‘I am going to kill you,'" said Edwards. "I yelled at the man that James was unarmed. James went to stand up, and James’ last words were, ‘You shot me.' The black man said, 'I sure did.’”

Edwards said he believes if Whitehead knew Arnold was an off-duty police officer, he would still be alive.

"I never saw a badge, and I never heard him say he was a police officer, and I was right there," he said. "I wouldn’t make this up."

Edwards, who gave a statement to police, said the incident left him stunned.

"It was just a small argument, and this was senseless," he said. "James’ hands were in plain view at the time of the shooting and ... the gun was no more than three feet away.”

 

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