Pallbearer shot dead at father’s funeral by plainclothes officers serving arrest warrant

The family of a man shot and killed by police after helping carry his father’s coffin demands answers.

Jason Arnie Owens, 37, was a porter at his father’s funeral on Aug. 24, when he was shot and killed in front of 40 mourners by two plainclothes officers outside a West Virginia funeral home, the Associated Press reported.

Relatives claim the officers opened fire before Owens realized what was going on.

The officers arrived on the scene to enforce a fugitive warrant and called the victim’s name, but didn’t give him a chance to surrender, loved ones claimed.

The US Marshals Service has not revealed why a warrant was issued against Owens, but told the news organization he had a gun at the time of the arrest, a claim disputed by witnesses.

“They were calling Jason’s name. They just said ‘Jason’ and then started shooting,” said Cassandra Whitecotton, a family friend. “There was no identification that they were US Marshals – anything. They did not help this man at all. Never have they touched him to render any assistance.”

Owen’s funeral on Friday follows a rally last week outside the Harrison County courthouse where protesters demanded answers about his murder.

Authorities have declined to clarify details citing an ongoing investigation and told the AP in a statement that responding officers had provided first aid to Mr Owens.

Bodycam images of marshals, if any, are unlikely to be released as state law does not require authorities to do so during an investigation.

“We want to know why you would do this in front of his family,” said Mandy Swiger, his cousin. “And what gives you the right to do that to an unarmed man?”

Tracy Hahn, a security adviser and retired police officer, said in those circumstances, marshals usually wait until funeral services have ended before making any arrests.

“If they’ve been looking for someone and they finally know where they are, they’ll get them,” Ms Hahn told the AP.

“There must have been a mitigating circumstance that they felt the urgency to arrest him then rather than wait if there was a risk factor, an escape risk or something like that.”

In 2018, Mr. Owens was sentenced to three to 13 years in prison for the alleged attempted strangulation of a Harrison County deputy sheriff and fleeing the correctional facility where he was housed. He was released on parole in April 2021, but committed an offense “because he didn’t check in once,” Ms Swiger said.

“And that’s why he promised his mother after the funeral that he would turn himself in,” she told the AP.

Meanwhile, the family is said to be traumatized.

Just seconds before he was fatally shot, Mr. Owens had hugged his aunt. His 18-year-old son, who also attended the funeral, was covered in Mr. Owen’s blood.

And as mourners approached Mr. Owen’s body, the officers told them, “You step back or I’ll shoot you,” Ms Swiger claimed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.