A judge overruled two motions seeking to suppress evidence at a pretrial hearing Thursday in the case of a Monroe man accused of shooting an Amherst County Sheriff’s deputy during a September 2017 traffic stop.
The nearly three-hour hearing, which included testimony from four law enforcement officers on the scene that night, provided the most detailed account to date of the incident in the parking lot of the Monroe Post Office on U.S. 29 that resulted in the shooting of Lt. Jason Meador, who suffered a head injury and recovered.
Trevor Dawson Ewers, 24, faces two counts of attempted capital murder of a law enforcement officer and six other felony charges in connection with the shooting.
Deputy Erin Karajankovich, who conducted the traffic stop, shot Ewers during the incident in which another deputy and an Amherst town police officer were on scene. Ewers is scheduled to face a two-day jury trial Sept. 12 in Amherst Circuit Court.
Matthew Pack, his attorney, filed a pair of motions in June that sought to suppress evidence obtained by what the defense argued was an unreasonable seizure of Ewers. Pack argued in the motions the traffic stop was “pretextual in nature” and unjustified and states officers did not have probable cause to search Ewers and order him out of a vehicle.
The four law enforcement officers testified during the Aug. 29 hearing in Lynchburg Circuit Court before F. Patrick Yeatts, who presides in the Lynchburg courtroom but is overseeing the case after Amherst Circuit Court Judge Michael Garrett recused himself.
Pack argued the officers violated Ewers’ Fourth Amendment rights by ordering him out of the vehicle without probable cause while he was a backseat passenger. The seizure and search without a warrant led to “the great majority” of evidence against Ewers and ultimately led to the incident, according to a motion Pack filed in Amherst Circuit Court.
Prosecutors argued in responding court filings Ewers was not searched until after he retrieved a firearm from his pants and fired several shots at the officers, striking Meador in the head, and the officers had probable cause to conduct the stop.
Karajankovich and Deputy William Nash each testified they were at the Coolwell Recreation Center while responding to a previous matter when Nash received a call from Dante Robinson, a town police officer. Robinson testified he requested the deputies’ assistance while following a vehicle south on U.S. 29 Business carrying a passenger he previously spotted and believed was involved in a potential drug transaction.
Karajankovich testified she followed the vehicle and could not make out the license tag because it wasn’t illuminated. She said she pulled the vehicle over for that reason. She approached the vehicle and worked to identify and get information on Ewers and the two other occupants in the front seat. Acting on the totality of the circumstances involved, she intended to get the three occupants out so she could check the vehicle with a drug-sniffing canine.
The passengers appeared nervous, she smelled alcohol on Ewers and he said he had been drinking that night, she testified. Robinson testified he noticed suspicious activity but, aside from the defunct tag light, he did not observe anything illegal occur within the vehicle prior to the shooting.
Amherst Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Amber Drumheller asked Robinson about his state of mind while recounting the encounter with Virginia State Police following the shooting.
“I was a mess, of course,” Robinson said. “It was a pretty scary situation.”
Meador testified he watched the vehicle for safety purposes and conversed with Ewers in the backseat. “I just remember he was intoxicated,” Meador said. “He told me he was.”
Ewers smelled of alcohol, displayed slurred speech and stumbled out of the vehicle, according to Meador’s testimony. The officer told Ewers he would pat him down and grabbed his arm to control him when he exited the vehicle, at which point he pulled a handgun from his pocket toward the direction of Karajankovich.
“He pointed the gun at her and said, ‘I’m not going back,’” Meador testified.
Several shots were fired as Ewers fell to the ground, one of which “struck or grazed” Meador on the side of his head, according to court documents. Footage from a body camera Meador was wearing that night and played in court showed Ewers sitting in the backseat, admitting to being intoxicated and asking why they were being stopped.
The footage showed Ewers turn suddenly turn toward Meador. The video was stopped in court before the struggle and shooting took place. Pack questioned Meador about the officer “shoving” Ewers onto the vehicle.
“That’s when I got shot, yes,” Meador said during the line of questioning.
Pack told Yeatts the defense believes Ewers was seized unconstitutionally and the traffic stop’s purpose was to investigate an alleged drug transaction. “They stopped the vehicle for the sole purpose of getting [Ewers] out of the vehicle,” Pack said.
Yeatts said in overruling the motions law enforcement officers have legal grounds to remove occupants from vehicles while conducting traffic stops and he took into consideration the totality of the circumstances involved. He said public intoxication in itself was enough to remove Ewers from the vehicle and ruled the evidence could proceed to trial.
“This was not an unreasonable stop,” Yeatts said.
Virginia State Police investigated and found no criminal wrongdoing by deputies occurred, the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office has said. Pack also is seeking a change of venue, which Yeatts said will be taken under advisement as potential jurors would be questioned and attempted to be seated during the scheduled Sept. 12 trial in Amherst.
Pack said after the hearing drugs were not found in the vehicle.
“My client maintains his innocence in this matter and is looking forward to his day in court,” Pack said.