Local Officers Cleared in December Standoff

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The initial findings of Second Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington into the shooting which occurred in Rector the day after Christmas, clears local law enforcement personnel of any wrongdoing in connection with the incident. In a letter last week to Arkansas State Police Commander William Bryant, Ellington noted final ballistics and autopsy reports are still pending and could affect the final decision—otherwise, the shooting was justified under Arkansas law.

Rector Police responded to the report of a man with a gun around 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 26, with part-time Patrolman Michael Turner answering the call. According to reports from the ASP, the incident took place in front of the Flash Market, near the busy intersection of U.S. Highway 49 and Main Street. Investigators noted the Rector Police Department was summoned to the scene on the report of a man brandishing a handgun, and upon arrival confronted Gary Warbritton, 21, of Rector.

Clad at the time only in pajama bottoms and boots, Warbritton made his way from the nearby Subway west along Highway 49, where he was confronted by Turner in front of the former Crockett Oil building across from the Flash Market. Waving the handgun in the air, he continually refused to surrender the weapon. Ellington's report also indicated Warbritton pointed the weapon at Turner, who fired his weapon four times but did not strike the suspect.

As the standoff continued, additional authorities responded to the location, including the remaining members of the RPD, deputies with the Clay County Sheriff's Department and Piggott Patrolmen, and reserve deputy, Jeff Wolfenbarger. The Rector Fire Department also responded, and provided manpower for traffic control.

Unofficial reports from the scene, and a video posted on social media, indicated Warbritton fired into the air on at least two occasions, and repeatedly broke windows on the vacant building while shouting at the officers.

Following the incident, the ASP news release on the investigation noted, “As police arrived in the area, the suspect, now identified as Warbritton, reportedly pointed the gun at a police officer (Turner) who fired his gun at Warbritton.”

Warbritton fled across the street, and led police to the convenience store where officers reportedly attempted to persuade him to drop the firearm. The reported noted at one point during the standoff a woman, identified by Ellington as Jessica Lamar, came out of the convenience store and walked toward Turner and Warbritton. He indicated that the suspect began walking toward the two, and noted “when Warbritton was about four feet from Turner and Lamar, Warbritton raised his gun and pointed it at Turner.”

At this point Wolfenbarger fired a single shot which struck the suspect under the right arm. The report further noted Warbritton fell onto his left side and again tried to point the weapon at Turner, “however, Turner moved and was able to push Warbritton to the ground, remove the weapon and handcuff him.”

Paramedics then responded, and the report noted Warbritton was pronounced dead at the scene at 4:32 by Clay County Coroner Jerrod Lowe. During the subsequent investigation the highway and street remained closed to traffic, although it was opened once again around 8 p.m.

Warbritton's body was taken from the scene, and was to be sent to the State Crime Laboratory “for purposes to identify the manner and cause of death and collect forensic evidence,” according to the ASP.

In his report to the ASP, Ellington cited Arkansas code which allows the use of deadly force by law enforcement if they believe it is necessary to defend themselves.

“Officers Turner and Wolfenbarger were justified when they used deadly force against Gary Warbritton in defense of their lives, as well as the life of Ms. Lamar. It is my understanding that there are still outstanding ballistics and autopsy reports, as well as other follow-up reports. Until those reports are finished this investigation remains open and my finding may be subject to change,” Ellington wrote.

In the weeks since the shooting, Wolfenbarger was placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of Ellington's investigation into the incident. A Rector native, he is a full-time patrolman for the Piggott Police Department, a reserve deputy for Clay County Sheriff Terry Miller's department and a key member of the Clay County Rescue Task Force.

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