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On Thursday, an Upshur County Grand Jury reviewed the facts and evidence surrounding the shooting death of Dale Hightower, Jr. and found the officers’ actions were justified in using deadly force.
A call for service was received by Upshur County Dispatch on the evening of January 3, 2017. The caller identified that Dale Hightower, Jr. had assaulted his girlfriend and was holding her against her will. The caller stated that he believed Hightower to be intoxicated. Trooper John Smith, III was close to the address found on Cottonwood Road in Upshur County and was the first responder. Deputy Alex Ortiz with the Sheriff’s Office was having dinner and left dinner to also respond to the address south west of Gilmer. After the caller hung up with dispatch, he called Mr. Hightower to inform him the police had been called and were on their way.
When Trooper Smith arrived at the location and exited his marked patrol car, he could hear a female’s voice screaming from inside the residence. The gate to the property was locked so he waited for backup to arrive which was Deputy Ortiz. Both officers walked on foot to the gate and while still outside the yard, they observed Mr. Hightower walking off his porch. Video and audio evidence showed that both officers yelled and identified themselves as a Trooper and Deputy. Next, officers are heard screaming for Mr. Hightower to put his gun down and not to shoot. Instead, Mr. Hightower took a defensive position, raised his loaded rifle at the officers and was shot 5 times by the officers falling to the ground.
Mr. Hightower’s girlfriend was then called out of the residence. She displayed injuries consistent with being assaulted. Once the girlfriend was safe, Trooper Smith jumped the fence and administered heroic efforts of CPR to try to save Mr. Hightower’s life. He and other officers continued trying to revive Mr. Hightower even after Emergency Medical Services arrived. Mr. Hightower’s gun was loaded, a live round chambered, and an additional loaded clip was found in his pocket along with his girlfriend’s cell phone.
The girlfriend, after being interviewed, stated that Mr. Hightower said he would shoot anyone who came to the property and that she was not leaving.
The Texas Rangers were called and took the lead in this investigation. Ranger Chris Baggett was assigned as lead investigator in this case and did a very thorough investigation into all of the facts.
Our prayers are with the Hightower family as they mourn the loss of Dale Hightower, Jr. We further ask for prayers for both officers who had to make a split decision that day while serving and protecting our community.