Fleenor: Shooting by deputy ‘appropriate and legally justified’

Staff Report

Pulaski County Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Fleenor on Tuesday issued an opinion stating the shooting by a Pulaski County Deputy in a May 14 incident in the Town of Pulaski was “appropriate and legally justified based on the facts and circumstances of the incident.”

The incident resulted in the death of James Alvis Burton Sr.

Fleenor’s opinion was included in a letter to Virginia State Police Senior Special Agent B.E. Burnett in the Wytheville office of the State Police who was in charge of the investigation.

Fleenor’s letter, which reports the events surrounding the incident, follows:


Dear Special Agent Burnett:

This letter shall constitute the Commonwealth’s opinion letter for the officer involved shooting that led to the death of James Alvis Burton, Sr.  Thank you very much for your thorough investigation and detailed report.   I have come to the conclusion and it is my opinion that the shooting by the Pulaski County Deputy was appropriate and legally justified based on the facts and circumstances of this incident.

A summary of the facts are as follows:  James and Sandy Burton lived at 122 Fourth Street S.E., Pulaski, VA.  On May 14, 2017 authorities received a 911 call from a neighbor who reported that Sandy Burton had been assaulted by James Burton and that the neighbor herself had seen James holding a firearm as Sandy ran out of the house.  Sandy told the neighbor that James was intoxicated and had choked her.  Sandy also told the neighbor that there were other guns in the house and that James had previously barricaded himself in the home.

Based on this information and Mr. Burton’s prior criminal history, Pulaski Police Officer 1 obtained a felony warrant for domestic assault and a protective order were from the Magistrate.  Officer 1 then went back to the residence to arrest Burton.  SWAT teams from the Pulaski PD and the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office arrived and set up around the house.  Pulaski


Police Officer 2 approached the door and attempted to contact Burton.  The Officer heard glass break and then saw Burton throw a rifle out the window.  He then saw Burton take another gun and put it to his own head and say “I want you to watch this,” as he attempted to reach the trigger with his foot.   The officer heard a shot go off in the house, but then saw Burton come to the window and yell for the officer to shoot him.  Burton then said that he was “going to leave in a body bag.”  Numerous attempts were made to contact Burton in an effort to have him come out of the house and surrender.  Burton only responded with threats and profanities.

Sheriff’s Deputy 1 had set up behind a tree near the house.  Deputy 1 could see Burton lean out the window and yell at other officers.  Burton let a pit bull out of the home.  Burton then came out onto the porch holding a black pump shotgun.  Burton raised the shotgun, pointed at the officers and attempted to fire the shotgun, but it did not fire.  Burton then returned to the home and could be heard maneuvering the pump action on the shotgun.  He returned to the porch again, aimed at the officers a second time and pulled the trigger.  Again the shotgun did not fire.  Burton then attempted to slide the pump and for a third time pointed at the officers and fired the shotgun in their direction.  Fortunately no officers were struck.

Deputy 1 had witnessed two failed attempts to shoot at his fellow officers.  Immediately after the third attempt, in which Burton did discharge the shotgun at the officers, Deputy 1 fired a single shot from his rifle at Burton.  He saw Burton move back into the house and slam the door.  It was later determined that Burton died as a result of the gunshot from Deputy 1.  The events as described were personally observed by approximately 7 independent witnesses and at least 10 law enforcement officers at the scene.  Not a single witness disputed the facts as described.

In conclusion, Deputy 1’s action in shooting Burton, were appropriate and legally justified in his defense of himself and other fellow officers.

Very truly yours,

Mike Fleenor, Jr.

cc: James A. Davis, Sheriff

     Gary Roche, Chief PPD