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One story, two versions, three bullets

Suit over killing of cell tower worker divides police


Potentially explosive charges made in a lawsuit filed against the city in the shooting death of a cell tower worker could lead to fireworks on the stand if the case makes it before a jury.

Some believe that internal divisions over the events that led up to the shooting of Anthony Wayne Furr last year by a police officer could potentially embarrass the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

If the allegations made in the suit by Furr's family are true, it would mean that the official version of events Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police released to the public lacked several critical details and contained others that were untrue. The suit also alleges that the department lacks official procedures that would have kept the incident from occurring, as critics have long suggested.

Furr, 41, was doing repair work on a cell tower off Albemarle Road when he was shot by CMPD officer Anthony Payne in the early morning hours of July 20 after a 911 caller reported suspicious activity around the tower. Furr's truck, which bore the logo of his employer, AFL Network Services, was parked outside.

In the department's version of the story, after Payne entered the brightly lit building, Furr pointed a gun at Payne and refused commands to drop it. A police spokesperson insisted that though Furr may not have been able to hear the commands over the noise of the building's air conditioner, Furr would have seen Payne's uniform before Payne was forced to shoot him. Police told the media that Furr's gun was found at his side.

But the lawsuit alleges that Furr never pointed a gun at Payne, and that the gun was actually found on the ground outside the cell tower. According to the suit, Payne fired at Furr from outside the building. The suit maintains that Payne "ducked behind the wall of the open door, reached around the door frame with his right hand and blindly fired three rounds" at Furr. One bullet struck the door Payne was hiding behind and two others struck Furr, who was pronounced dead moments later.

The charge that the gun was found outside was initially made by the Charlotte Observer in a September article that relied on anonymous sources.

Since then, sources inside the department say that the case has continued to cause internal strife among CMPD employees who insist the gun was found outside the tower and that it appears that Payne shot Furr from outside the tower, where it would have been too dark for Furr to see him. They believe the department should have told the public that version of the story from the beginning, Creative Loafing was told by two sources.

Instead, a version of the story very similar to the one that Payne gave the department was released to the public by police, sources say.

"I think that there are differences within the police department about that issue," a source familiar with the internal investigation says. "I think officer Payne sort of has taken one position about where that gun was, but every other human being involved has a different position about that."

The suit alleges that Furr may have thrown the gun outside the cell tower in a gesture of surrender before Payne shot him.

If the Furr case makes it before a jury, the internal divide in the department could make for embarrassing public fireworks for police higher-ups, who along with Mecklenburg County District Attorney Peter Gilchrist insisted that it wasn't necessary to call in the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations to investigate the case.

The suit also claims the police department failed to train officers to properly respond to reports of suspicious activity and that it has no set procedures for doing so.

A CMPD spokesperson says that the department does have written procedures police must follow when responding to reports of suspicious activity, and that it would provide them to CL next week.

An attorney for the Furr family declined to comment on the suit.

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