Virginia Is For Killer Cops
By Steve Hardy
Police chief: Shooting of elderly woman was justified
September 20, 2012 - The fatal Wednesday night shooting of an 83-year-old Altavista woman by police was justified, Altavista Police Chief Clay Hamilton said Thursday.
Now, family, neighbors and investigators are trying to determine if Delma Towler was a genuine threat, suffering from declining mental faculties or a victim of a horrible accident.
Shortly before 10 p.m. on Wednesday, authorities arrived at 813 Tenth St. where Towler lived alone.
A woman at the residence called 9-1-1 but hung up before speaking with dispatchers, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said Thursday.
Two officers went to the home where identical statuettes of the Sacred Heart of Jesus flank the steps up to the front door.
The details leading up to the fatal shooting remain unclear.
Towler, the victim was 83 years old.
Geller said officers made repeated attempts to determine if anyone was inside. Multiple neighbors reported seeing the police approach and hearing officers ask repeatedly for anyone inside to come out.
A handgun was fired from within the house, Geller said. She declined to elaborate on the shots fired from within the house but shattered glass from the back door littered the yard Thursday.
Towler left her house from the back door, gun in hand, Geller said. Neighbors said she walked toward her sister’s home, two houses down.
Police saw her outside and ordered her to put down her weapon, Geller said. Towler pointed the gun at officers.
One fired, killing her feet from her sister’s back porch.
No officers were injured.
The Police Shooting Investigative Team of the Virginia State Police is investigating the shooting at Hamilton’s request.
He said the Altavista Police officers, who were carrying less-lethal weapons including tasers, mace and batons, were justified in using deadly force and followed department procedures.
Shooting to kill is appropriate “whenever you feel a threat on your own life or when you’re protecting someone else’s,” Hamilton said.
Police have responded to “several” calls from the victim in the past, Hamilton said. None lead to arrests.
Neighbors said they couldn’t imagine anyone being scared of Towler.
“I never knew her to hurt anything,” Towler’s grandson Carl Barbour said.
“They’re going to have to explain it to me.”
Neighbor Shimice Jones said Towler was “like family to the entire neighborhood.”
“She was just trying to get to her sister. I guess that’s the only place she felt safe.”
Margaret Davis said her sister frequently spoke of her fear of break-ins and had owned a handgun for years.
Two houses on the street had been burglarized in the past year and a half, neighbor Tiffany Poindexter said.
Some neighbors are furious and don’t understand why police would shoot an elderly woman.
Towler wore hearing aids, neighbors noted, and may not have heard the officers identify themselves.
Her house, and the two adjacent homes, did not have apparent outdoor lights. However, there is a light on a telephone pole a few dozen feet from her home.
“Everything is lit up,” said Tina Hall, who lives down the street.
Authorities continue to investigate the case, Geller said. State police are conducting criminal investigations and the Altavista Police Department is conducting its own internal investigation.
Officers still are trying to confirm the timeline of events.
Meanwhile, the medical examiner has conducted a preliminary examination and confirmed Towler died of wounds caused by gunfire, but the specifics of her injuries have not been disclosed. Authorities also are not releasing the 9-1-1 recordings or in-car camera footage from the scene, citing the ongoing investigation.
The officer who pulled the trigger is on administrative leave. He has not been named, but Hamilton called him a veteran of the force with over a decade of experience.
The shooting has shaken the whole community and especially the sister Towler was trying to reach when she was shot.
“It just tore some of her heart out,” Jones said.