Sheriff's Dept. cleared in shooting case

LAWRENCEVILLE - A federal court has cleared the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department of wrongdoing in the case of a Buford motorist shot to death by a deputy in 2005.

Officials with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia dismissed a civil suit last month brought by the slain man's family. The plaintiffs had until recently to appeal but failed to do so, Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Stacey Bourbonnais said.

"The appeals process just ran out," Bourbonnais said. "There was no appeal, and the case is concluded."

The case involved the Feb. 7, 2005, shooting death of Steve Pearce, 36. Two deputies encountered Pearce in his car while serving an unrelated warrant on Bona Road, a known drug area, Bourbonnais said.

One deputy, Greg Chapel, feared he was in danger of being struck by Pearce, so he fired several shots, killing him at the scene. Pearce suffered three bullet wounds - two to the chest and one to the head, his family said at the time.

Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter declined to file charges against Chapel, now a sergeant, three months after the shooting.

The federal court held that the shooting was justifiable, in that Chapel "was entitled to continue using deadly force until Pearce was no longer an imminent threat," officials wrote.

Sheriff Butch Conway, who was at the scene that night, echoed the court's sentiment.

"The deputy did what he was trained to do and what he had to do," Conway said. "He performed his duties exactly how he should have."

Pearce's family contended at the time that he was probably scared and tried to get away, but was not a danger to authorities.

Pearce had a history of arrests in Gwinnett County for obstruction of law enforcement, parole violation, drug possession and probation violation dating back to 2001, according to jail records.

Bourbonnais said the court also awarded the Sheriff's Department more than $9,000 to "recoup certain costs associated with the case."