District Attorney Seth Banks determined Watauga County Sheriff's Deputy Adam Shane Gragg acted lawfully in the fatal shooting death of Andrew Mason.

On March 30th, Deputy Gragg responded to a 911 dispatch of a suspicious male attempting to enter a residence on Hardin Road in Boone. Deputy Gragg located Mason and Mason began acting violently, reaching for the deputy's service weapon. Gragg then fired one shot at Mason as self-defense. The DA launched a death investigation following this incident and found overwhelming evidence that Gragg was lawful in his use of deadly force.

Below is the District Attorney's Report on the Andrew John Mason Death Investigation":

The District Attorney’s office has reviewed the investigative materials provided by the State Bureau of Investigation and the Office of the State Medical Examiner in the above-referenced matter. Because of the role of the District Attorney as defined by the North Carolina Constitution and applicable statutes is largely limited to the determination of when to pursue criminal actions, the sole task before this office has been to determine
whether Deputy Adam Gragg committed a criminal offense when Andrew John Mason was shot and killed on March 30th, 2019.

Because the District Attorney does not have administrative oversight of the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office or any other outside agency and because the District Attorney exercises no civil authority under these circumstances, it would be wholly improper for this office to render any opinion as to whether or not Deputy Gragg followed applicable procedures and best practices. It would also be improper for this office to render any opinion on whether or not other administrative or civil remedies could be pursued in this case.


The applicable law as it relates to the use of deadly force recognizes a right to use deadly force to protect one’s self from death or great bodily harm. This is commonly known as the right of self-defense. Under North Carolina Law, Sheriff’s Deputies and other law enforcement personnel have the same right to defend themselves as any other individual in our state. In the event that the State brings a criminal action against an
individual who claims that they used force as an act of self-defense, the burden of proof rests with the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant did not act in self-defense. The Supreme Court of North Carolina has held that the use of deadly force is justified if a person reasonably believed in the necessity of the use of that force to prevent the person’s death or great bodily injury. State v. Norris, 303 N.C. 526 (1981).


The United States Supreme Court has gone further by elaborating on the unique circumstances that law enforcement personnel are often faced with when carrying out their duties. In Graham v. Connor, Chief Justice Rehnquist, writing for the Court, stated that “the ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” 490 U.S. 386 (1989). The Court went on to say that “the calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgements – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving –about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” Id. at 396-97


The records of Watauga County Communications Center reveal that the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office received a call from 911 emergency dispatch at around 11:25 p.m. on March 30, 2019, reporting that a suspicious male was attempting to enter a residence in the area of Hardin Road, Boone, North Carolina. The first 911 caller had reported an address in the 2100 block of Hardin Rd. and stated that someone was “knocking
their door down.” (See Exhibit 1: 911 Calls) The caller reported that the person was “off on drugs” and had called her an “old b***h.” While officers were in route to the scene, 911 received an additional call describing a male subject screaming and walking on Hardin Road. A third caller reported she had heard a man screaming around an abandoned home in the “S” curve above her home. Deputy Adam Shane Gragg was first to arrive on scene.

Deputy Gragg was interviewed by SBI Special Agent M.T. Lee on March 31, 2019. Gragg said that upon his arrival, he spoke with the homeowners at 2224 Hardin Road. The homeowners told Deputy Gragg that the male was last seen walking toward Castle Ford Road. Deputy Gragg said that he went towards Castle Ford Road, but was then advised by communications that the male may be near an abandoned blue house between
2400 and 2500 Hardin Road. Deputy Gragg said he turned around and headed in that direction.

Gragg said that as he was traveling on Hardin Road, he observed a male in the middle of the road running toward his patrol vehicle. The male, later identified as Andrew John Mason, was wearing pajama pants, a t-shirt, and no shoes. According to Deputy Gragg, he came to a stop and exited his vehicle with a flashlight. Deputy Gragg said that Mason continued coming directly toward him, while screaming and mumbling. Deputy Gragg drew his taser as Mason kept getting closer. Deputy Gragg said he identified himself as being from the Sheriff’s Office and instructed Mason to stop multiple times.


Deputy Gragg said that Mason stopped with his back turned to him, but then turned around and came back toward the driver’s side of the patrol car. Deputy Gragg said he continuously commanded Mason to stop. Deputy Gragg told Special Agent Lee that he had his taser in his right hand and that he instructed Mason to calm down. Deputy Gragg said Mason then replied “Let’s go” and mumbled incoherently. Deputy Gragg said
he heard the words, “die” and “jail”. Deputy Gragg said that Mason moved toward him and was again instructed to stop. Deputy Gragg had
his taser pointed at Mason when he lunged at Deputy Gragg. Simultaneously, Deputy Gragg said that he deployed his taser, and as it was deploying, Mason knocked the taser from Deputy Gragg’s hand. Of the two taser prongs that were deployed, one prong was located at the bottom of the windshield of the patrol car and the other on the ground next to the front left tire (See Exhibit 2: Photo 1).


Deputy Gragg said that Mason then struck him in the face, breaking the nose piece of his glasses. Deputy Gragg said that he defensively used one hand in attempt to protect his face and had his other hand on his holstered service weapon. Deputy Gragg said that Mason continued hitting and kicking him and also struck the patrol vehicle during the struggle. Deputy Gragg said Mason was yelling incoherently while Deputy Gragg
commanded him to stop.


Deputy Gragg said that during the struggle, Mason reached around Deputy Gragg’s back towards Deputy Gragg’s gun. At this time, Deputy Gragg used his left arm to separate himself from Mason and then drew his gun with his right hand. He said Mason continued to scream and advance toward him again, and that is when Deputy Gragg fired one shot from his gun and hit Mason just below his sternum. He fell to the ground
near the driver’s side rear of the patrol car (See Exhibit 3: Photo 2). Only one shell casing designated as “2” in
the previous photograph was located.

Deputy Gragg was wearing a body camera which began recording where Mason stopped with his back
turned to Deputy Gragg, but then turns around and starts back toward the driver’s side of the patrol car. 1
(See Exhibit 4: Body Cam) Per the video, Mason continues advancing toward Deputy Gragg as the Deputy is
backing away toward his patrol car. Mason knocks the taser from Deputy Gragg’s right hand. A struggle then
ensues prior to the shooting.


1 There is no audio for the first thirty seconds after the beginning of the recording. This is a standard feature for the Axon Flex body
worn cameras issued by the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office. For a fuller understanding of this feature see the article on the
manufacturer’s website.

Two additional Deputies, Cody Scot Brown and Daniel Charles Plane arrived on scene seconds after the gunshot. Emergency Medical Services was requested at 11:45 pm. The deputies administered first aid to Mason while waiting for transport. As heard in the above video, Sgt. Plane asked Mason if he had taken anything that evening, and he responded, “Yeah. Acid.”

During an interview with the SBI, Sgt. Plane said he heard Deputy Gragg saying “Stop it” several times when he arrived on scene and began approaching Deputy Gragg’s patrol vehicle. He said he observed a “mass” near the driver’s side door and then heard a single gunshot. When Sgt. Plane began to administer aid he noticed Mason’s eyes were dilated. He observed that Deputy Gragg’s glasses were bent and that his face was red and slightly swollen.


Deputy Brown was also interviewed by the SBI. Deputy Brown said that he heard fighting and screaming when he arrived on scene and began walking toward Deputy Gragg’s patrol vehicle. Specifically, Deputy Brown said that he heard Deputy Gragg tell Mason twice to stop or he was going to tase him. Deputy Brown then started running and heard a taser deploy and a single gunshot a few seconds later, but could not see anything because Deputy Gragg’s headlights were shining toward him.
The SBI canvassed the surrounding neighborhood for witnesses and spoke with one individual who stated that she heard Mason screaming and saw him going toward the officer. She then heard what sounded like a taser go off and heard fighting just before the gunshot. She also stated she heard Deputy Gragg telling Mason to stop.


Tristan Danner, who lived at the residence with Mason, was interviewed by the SBI and produced a picture Mason had texted him on the evening he was shot wherein Mason purported to be “Doing drugs with blue now...” (See Exhibit 5: Photo 3) A search by the SBI of Mason’s phone records determined the picture was sent at 9:03 pm on March 30th.

Tristan also said that two to three weeks prior to the incident, Mason told him he was obtaining acid from the “dark web” on the internet.


Sarah Kate Danner, Tristan’s mother, was also interviewed. Ms. Danner lived at the residence with
Mason as well. She was out of town for vacation on March 30th, but said that before she left, Mason and one of
his friends told her they were attempting to obtain acid for Mason’s birthday.
Mason was transported to Watauga Medical Center at 12:17 am on March 31, 2019, and was airlifted to
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center where he passed away at around 3:24 am. An autopsy was conducted on
April 1, 2019. (See Exhibit 6: Autopsy) There is no evidence to indicate whether or not the injuries noted in the
report, other than the single gunshot wound of the abdomen, were a result of the altercation with Deputy Gragg.
The initial toxicology report prepared by Dr. John Brower positively identified the presence of only two controlled substances which were most likely administered after hospitalization. 3

2 It is important to note that while the toxicology tests done by Dr. Brower are comprehensive and include most of the commonly
abused controlled substances, the test cannot encompass all controlled substances and their variants.
3 After a telephone conversation with the toxicologist on July 8th 2019, the State requested additional testing of the specimens
collected by a private lab in a further attempt to determine what substance(s) Mason may have ingested on March 30th prior to the shooting. At the time of this report on July 11th, 2019, those results were not yet available.

(See Exhibit 7: Toxicology)
Based on the evidence presented, it is undisputed that Deputy Gragg fired his service weapon, striking and killing Mason. The 911 calls, body camera footage, statements of law enforcement and civilian witnesses, and evidence collected at the scene corroborate Deputy Gragg’s account of how the events transpired that evening. The three 911 calls and photograph Mason texted further corroborates that his erratic behavior on the night of the shooting was likely due to his impairment from some unknown substance. His statement to Sgt. Plane that he had taken a substance that he believed to be acid further supports the conclusion that Mason’s actions should be viewed from the perspective that he was suffering the effects of an unknown impairing substance when he advanced on Deputy Gragg, failed to heed the deputy’s commands, and ultimately struck the
deputy.

From the perspective of a reasonable law enforcement officer, which is the applicable legal that is set out in the law, the conclusion of this office is that Deputy Gragg reasonably believed that he faced an imminent fear of great bodily harm or death during this encounter. Mason repeatedly advanced toward him in an aggressive manner while screaming at him incoherently after being instructed to stop multiple times. The body camera footage further indicates that Deputy Gragg attempted to avoid Mason’s advances by retreating.

Furthermore, Mason knocked the taser from Deputy Gragg’s hand and began striking him in the face and kicking him. Then, according to Gragg’s statement, which is uncontradicted by the evidence presented to this office, Mason reached for Deputy Gragg’s holstered firearm. A firearm is a deadly weapon under North Carolina law. When Mason reached for Deputy Gragg’s holstered firearm, Deputy Gragg was confronted with an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury—as his own firearm could have been used against him, and was justified in using deadly force to prevent the threat. Deputy Gragg’s use of force was also reasonable.

Deputy Gragg fired one shot from his gun at Mason. Mason immediately fell to the ground, no longer presenting a threat to Deputy Gragg. At this point, Deputy Gragg did not fire any more shots at Mason. Given the overwhelming weight of the evidence that this office reviewed, we must conclude that Deputy Gragg’s actions, when viewed through the lens of a reasonable officer put in the same circumstance, were justified in the shooting death of Andrew Mason. Further, the evidence indicates that Gragg’s belief that it was necessary to use deadly force in self-defense was reasonable given the totality of the circumstances. The evidence in this case paints a tragic picture of the last hours of a young man’s life. However, based on the
review by the District Attorney’s office of all the evidence presented to us in this case as well as our review of the law of self-defense in North Carolina, we must conclude that Deputy Gragg acted lawfully and in a manner that was consistent with his duties as a law enforcement officer.