The family of a man who was shot and killed by law enforcement after helping carry his father’s casket is demanding answers.
Jason Arnie Owens, 37, was a bandit at his father’s funeral on August 24 when he was shot and killed in front of 40 mourners by two plainclothes police officers outside a West Virginia funeral home. Associated Press mentionted.
Family members claim officers opened fire before Mr Owens realized what was happening.
Officers arrived at the scene to serve a fugitive warrant and called the victim’s name, but did not give him a chance to surrender, according to loved ones.
The US Marshals Service did not say why a warrant had been issued for Mr Owens, but told the news organization he had a gun at the time of the arrest, a claim disputed by witnesses.
“They called Jason’s name. They just said, ‘Jason,’ and then they started shooting,” said Cassandra Whitecotton, a family friend. “There was no identification that they were US Marshals – nothing. They did not help this man at all. They never touched him to offer him any help.”
Mr. Owen’s funeral on Friday follows a rally last week outside the Harrison County courthouse, where protesters demanded answers about his murder.
Authorities declined to elaborate, citing an ongoing investigation, and told the AP in a statement that responding officers had administered first aid to Mr. Owens.
Dash cam footage, if any, is unlikely to be released, as state law does not require authorities to do so during an investigation.
“We want to know why you would do this in front of his family,” said Mandy Swiger, his cousin. “And what gives you the right to do that to an unarmed person?”
Tracy Hahn, a security consultant and retired police officer, said that under these circumstances, marshals usually wait until funerals are over before making arrests.
“If they were looking for someone and they finally find out where he is, they will find him,” Ms. Han told the AP.
“There has to be some mitigating circumstance that they felt the urgency to arrest him then rather than waiting to see if there was a risk factor, a risk of flight or something like that.”
In 2018, Mr. Owens was sentenced to three to 13 years in prison for allegedly trying to strangle a Harrison County sheriff’s deputy and escaping from the correctional facility where he was being held. He was released on parole in April 2021 but committed a violation “because he didn’t check in just once,” Ms. Swiger said.
“And that’s why he promised his mom after the funeral that he would turn himself in,” he told the AP.
Meanwhile, the family has reportedly been injured.
Seconds before he was fatally shot, Mr Owens was hugging his aunt. His 18-year-old son, who was also present at the funeral, was left covered in Mr Owen’s blood.
And when mourners approached Mr Owen’s body, officers allegedly told them: ‘Back off or I’ll shoot you,’ Ms Swiger claimed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.