Outrage in NorCal Town After Officer Shoots Unarmed DUI Suspect

Prosecutors said their findings confirmed the officer's claims that the gun discharged accidentally.

Residents of a Northern California town are outraged over a response to a recent police-involved shooting of an unarmed DUI suspect, which was caught on a dashcam. 

Butte County prosecutors announced last week that they will not charge Paradise Police Officer Patrick Feaster, who fired on a driver as he was attempting to leave his car following a rollover crash on Nov. 26. Prosecutors said their findings confirmed Feaster's claims that the gun discharged accidentally.

The decision prompted protests over the weekend and a petition shared on “Justice for Andrew Thomas” Facebook page called for Feaster's firing.

“We’re just out here to address the issue that we want officer Feaster fired,” Joshua Turner, Thomas' friend who launched the Facebook page, told NBC affiliate KNVN.  “We don’t feel safe with him back on the street.”

Feaster followed the driver after noticing him speed out of a parking lot of the Canteena Bar in Paradise with his headlights off, according to police. 

The dramatic dashcam footage shows the driver, 26-year-old Andrew Thomas, crashing his SUV after hitting the median. His wife, 23-year-old Darien Ehorn, was ejected from the car and died at the scene. The video appears to show Feaster calmly walk toward the car and fire at Thomas as he tries to get out through the window.

Thomas falls back inside the car and the officer is seen approaching the car and peering inside.

"I've got an unresponsive female, I've got a male in the car refusing to get out," Feaster, a five-year veteran of the department, is later heard saying in the dash-cam video.

District Attorney Mike Ramsey said when Thomas, who had a blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit, “popped” out of the SUV, Feaster drew his gun and “accidentally” fired, striking Thomas in the neck, KNVN reported. Ramsey said the officer drew the firearm thinking Thomas would flee.

When first responders arrived on the scene, Feaster did not mention that he fired his gun and, according to Ramsey, notified his commanding officer about the discharge after Thomas’ gunshot wound was found, KNVN reported.

Feaster said he may have shot Thomas after the commanding officer suggested an investigator return to the bar to try to find out if Thomas had been shot there. Ramsey said nearly 11 minutes passed before responders learned Thomas had been shot. 

Ramsey said in a media release Thursday that several factors led investigators to conclude the shooting was accidental: “The dash cam video shows Officer Feaster was not prepared for and was surprised by the gun's firing. The pistol discharges in mid-stride and the officer both flinches his head to the right and does a stutter step indicative of an officer not prepared for nor intentionally firing his pistol. Additionally, officers normally train to fire a minimum of two shots. There was no second shot and the officer immediately holstered his weapon after the discharge.”

An internal investigation into the shooting is underway, according to Paradise Chief of Police Gabriela Tazzari-Dineen. 

Meanwhile, Thomas is facing vehicular manslaughter charges in his wife's death and may be paralyzed from the waist down.

“This is a horrible thing and we will get justice for what happened,” Thomas' family told KNVN in a written statement. 

Turner told NBC Owned Stations Tuesday that the dashcam video makes it "obvious" that "the shot was not accidental. And if it was, it was extremely negligent for officer Feaster not to call it in right away."

He said over 150 people protested the shooting on Saturday and he expects more people to come out over the weekend. He said he also started a petition to get California Attorney General Kamala Harris "involved in overriding Ramsey's decision not to press criminal charges."

"Police aren't being held accountable for these shootings all over the country, and when it happened to someone I knew, I couldn't sit at home and be silent," Turner said. "A lot of people feel that way in Paradise as well."

Turner added that Thomas is aware that his wife died in the crash and that he "he's ready to face the consequences. We just want Feaster held accountable and to face his."

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