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The Death of Terry Evans

 

 

The Indie, October 2006

On July 13, 2006, Terry Evans had been working on his Ford Bronco. He was frustrated and angry. When he asked his mother if she’d still love him in the morning when he was six-feet under, Tammy Revis called 911. Buncombe County Sheriff’s Deputy Tim Bradley responded to her call for help. Moments later, he shot Terry dead. Evans was seventeen years old.

Ms. Revis blames herself for the loss of her only child. She believes Terry would still be alive if she hadn’t made that fateful call. She had tried lesser measures to help him with the emotional turmoil he’d been suffering, including daily text messages to remind him of her love. He was working for a construction company, having dropped out of school back in the 9th grade. Revis told me he was a shy kid. He’d felt out of place at Erwin High and embarrassed that he couldn’t afford a fashionable wardrobe. In May of this year, when he complained of an inability to sleep and not wanting to live, she hospitalized him on a local psychiatric ward. Terry phoned a day later, wanting out. He said he’d declined to participate in group therapy and so had been sitting alone in his room since admission. Hoping to keep him cooperative with future treatment, she took him home. He got a prescription but no other follow-up. At one point, Revis phoned the community services information line, 211, for advice. She was told to call 911 in the event of an emergency; the sheriff would take Terry to the emergency room for an evaluation.

The 911 system has been standardized in recent years, according to Mack Salley, 911 Director for Buncombe County. Responders are dispatched based on location and the answers to a specific set of flip-card questions, not personal judgment. (Revis doesn’t recall being asked much beyond the nature of her emergency.) If medical problems are involved, an ambulance is sent. If there are “behavioral issues,” the 911 operator notifies the appropriate law enforcement agency. Only if both these problems are absent might a caller be referred to emergency mental health professionals. Charlie Schoenheit says that’s a rare occurrence. He oversees the publicly accessible emergency telephone service for Western Highlands Network, one of the breakdown products of the former community mental health system in Buncombe County.

Revis told me Terry had not been violent or threatened anyone other than himself when she dialed 911. He was walking the roads. But by the time BCSD arrived, Evans had heard that the law was at his house. He retrieved a single-shot shotgun he’d apparently hidden at a friend’s place and headed home. When he reached the foot of his driveway he spotted his mother and Deputy Bradley standing perhaps fifty yards away discussing involuntary commitment and hospitalization procedures. Three young people were sitting in a car nearby. A BCSD trainee, riding with Bradley, was also present. Terry fired his shotgun into the air and yelled, “Y’all leave.”

Revis says she ran and tackled her son before he had a chance to reload.‡ She was on top of him, holding him down with the shotgun, when Bradley approached. The gun barrel was pointed under Terry’s chin. She said, “I’ve got the gun. Get Terry.”

Bradley, she says, responded by repeatedly stomping Evans in the chest and commanding, “If you don’t stop it, I’ll put six rounds in you.”

Terry said, “Well, go ahead.”

Then, Revis says, Bradley “pulls his gun out. He goes [reaches] around me, and he shoots Terry from the side.”

The slug tore through Evans’s liver, lungs, and heart. He rolled over and grabbed at the wound. His last words were to his mother. “Promise me you’ll always love me.”

Revis lost it after that. She says she told the deputy he didn’t have to shoot and begged him to stop the bleeding. By her account, he didn’t touch Terry. Instead, Bradley ordered the three young people who’d been watching from the car to “Get out of the vehicle and take care of her.”

BCSD has released few details about the Evans shooting. In newspaper accounts from July, Sheriff Bobby Medford is said to have alleged that Terry pointed his shotgun at Bradley. Medford did not respond to repeated phone calls requesting comment on Tammy Revis’s version of events.

What happens next?
The State Bureau of Investigation has almost completed its investigation of the shooting, according to an NC Department of Justice spokeswoman. Upon completion, the SBI report will be delivered to District Attorney Ron Moore, who will determine whether to file any charges. Unless Moore elects to prosecute, the SBI’s version of events will be kept secret. Revis won’t be informed of the findings.

She continues to be haunted and infuriated by the events surrounding her son’s death. “Why couldn’t he [Bradley] have maced him? Why couldn’t he have tasered him? Why couldn’t he throw his handcuffs on him? Why couldn’t he use his billy-stick? No. The guy threatened to put six rounds in Terry, and Terry told him to go ahead.”

Speaking of the sheriff’s department in general, Revis says, “They need to send someone who specializes in suicidal people. They shouldn’t send a gun-happy cop.” To her way of thinking, Bradley “should pay just like we do. He’s no better than I am.” But she has little hope that the deputy will be held to account. In recent years, no WNC law enforcement officer has been disciplined as a result of killing a civilian in the line of duty. Revis believes the situation might be different if outside people, rather than just the DA, were allowed to review SBI reports and decide whether to bring charges.

“I won’t ever be able to be happy again,” she told me. “He [Terry] was all I had, and I loved him so much. They took my life when they took his.” But she also blames herself. “I feel guilty. I called 911. I tackled him and held him down while [Bradley] stomped him, and I watched him shoot him.”

Tammy Revis selling baby dollsHer present existence consists of working every day at her job, lying awake at night, and trying to cover Terry’s funeral expenses. On the day I interviewed her, she was holding a yard sale on Leicester Highway, mostly selling her clothes and collection of baby dolls. She isn’t ready to part with any of Terry’s things. Out front, on the edge of the highway, she displayed two banners she’d made as a memorial to her son. The larger one is adorned with about 200 signatures from the young people of Leicester.

One child left behind
Everyone I spoke with who ventured an opinion about the Evans case considers it a tragedy. Although Terry is not alive to confirm it, the circumstances surrounding his death strongly suggest what is known in the law enforcement community as “suicide by cop,” in which a suicidal person provokes an officer to fire. It was the last act for a troubled kid who had slipped through the fingers of the school system, the medical industry, and, arguably the local information and emergency telephone services before falling through the ultimate crack at the hands of Deputy Bradley.

Dropping out of school has been linked with increased risks for incarceration and suicide. The Buncombe County school system rates better than average in many areas but not in dropout prevention. A school system spokesman told me Superintendent Dodson has moved the dropout problem to the top of the priority list for this academic year. In partnership with the Eblen Foundation, the county’s middle and high schools have embarked on a ten-year campaign of more active and individualized interventions aimed at keeping kids in school.    

What remains of the North Carolina community mental health system has been in a rolling crisis of its own since the state mandated privatization in 2001. Terry was relatively lucky with regard to access. He had Medicaid. Unfortunately, his contact with services was fleeting. That much is clear. Whether or not attempts were made to cajole him into treatment after hospital discharge and how strenuous those attempts may have been is uncertain. His mother says there were none. A mental health professional who claimed knowledge of the case seemed to think there was more to the story but couldn’t discuss it.

The access situation is different for Revis. A retired physician has offered to provide her with counseling, but she hasn’t taken him up on it. If she changes her mind, he might be her best bet. For uninsured adults, non-emergency mental health or substance abuse treatment can be hard to obtain. The wait for an assessment of service eligibility already ranged from a few weeks to more than three months before the area’s largest provider, New Vistas-Mountain Laurel Mental Health Services, announced it was going out of business on October 31. Officials at the Western Highlands Network are scrambling to find private providers for an existing caseload of more than 10,500 clients spread over eight counties.

Ten years ago, 211 didn’t field mental health calls in Buncombe County. Tammy Revis would most likely have spoken directly to a mental health emergency service worker when she called for advice about Terry. She would have been encouraged and coached to get him into voluntary treatment. The worker would also have instructed her to call back, rather than use 911, if she became concerned about Terry’s safety. These additional opportunities to speak with mental health professionals might or might not have altered the course of events between May and July 13. But when the shotgun went off, Terry’s chances for survival dropped dramatically.

Although law enforcement agencies frequently deal with people who have potentially dangerous mental and substance abuse issues—the Buncombe County Clerk of Court issued 2129 involuntary commitment petitions last year and 2228 petitions in 2004—there are no special squads of psychological specialists trained to manage such situations differently than other officers. In the sheriff’s department, patrol officers carry batons and pepper spray. Tasers are not universally available. But these weapons were irrelevant in the Evans case, former BCSD officer and current Democratic sheriff’s candidate Van Duncan told me. “If a person has demonstrated the willingness to use a firearm, less-than-lethal weapons are off the table,” he says. So are negotiation techniques. The law enforcement goal is reduced to terminating the threat as quickly and certainly as possible. Officers are trained to shoot to incapacitate or kill rather than wound. Duncan agrees with these policies.

Banner memorializing Terry EvansThe Buncombe County schools and Eblen Foundation deserve a gold star for the new emphasis on getting kids the help they need to stay in school. But apart from that bright spot and barring some unforeseen turn of events, it seems likely that each of the public systems Terry fell through will be judged to have acted appropriately. The institutional wheels turned as designed. Too bad the product in this instance was a dead kid and a grieving mother.

—Michael Hopping
copyright © 2006 all rights reserved

In October, District Attorney Ron Moore said the SBI investigation revealed that the shotgun had been reloaded and went off a second time when Deputy Bradley stepped on it after shooting Evans. This account is disputed by Tammy Revis and one of the teenagers who witnessed the shooting. Moore did not disclose the evidence for a second shot, and the report remains secret pending possible legal action by Ms. Revis.

 

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