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Grand jury: Deputies justified in Vail shooting death

Saturday, November 16, 2013 2:00 am

By Danielle E. Gaines News-Post Staff

The Frederick County grand jury decided Friday that the use of force by Frederick County sheriff’s deputies was justified in the shooting death of Daniel Alain Vail.

Vail, 19, died Jan. 10 when members of the sheriff’s office’s Special Services Team entered his apartment in the 4800 block of Westwind Drive near Mount Airy looking for evidence related to a home invasion in Howard County in which Vail was a suspect.

After using a flash-bang diversionary device upon entering the apartment, deputies went into Vail’s bedroom, where they said he pointed a shotgun at them.

When Vail failed to drop the weapon after multiple warnings, two deputies fired 18 shots from their department-issued handguns, killing him.

The deputies involved were Deputy First Class Charles Zang and Deputy First Class Kevin Riffle.

Vail was pronounced dead at the scene.

On Friday, the Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office announced the grand jury’s decision.

The testimony lasted a little more than three hours.

According to the state’s attorney’s office, the grand jury heard from Detective Daniel Romeril, who investigated the case for the sheriff’s office; Sgt. Jason Null, a use-of-force expert for the sheriff’s office; Zang and Riffle; a deputy medical examiner; and Vail’s mother, Vallery Vail, who was home at the time of the shooting.

After hearing the testimony and viewing the evidence presented, the grand jury found the deputies’ actions were justified, the state’s attorney’s office said.

In a news release issued Friday afternoon, the state’s attorney’s office laid out its interactions with the grand jury.

It is the policy of the state’s attorney’s office to communicate the complete file to the grand jury, while explaining to them the current law on criminal homicide.

“This forum is not one for advocacy, but strictly for investigative purposes,” the release said.

Further information was not made available because state law mandates that testimony during grand jury proceedings remain secret.

“The decision of the grand jury really affirms the actions of the deputies,” Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said Friday evening. “There was no criminality or criminal act on their part.”

Jenkins said an internal investigation within the department is nearly closed and he believes the deputies acted within agency policy. They returned to regular duty some time ago, Jenkins said.

Questions remain for family.

Dominic Iamele, a Baltimore attorney representing Vail’s family, said many questions remain for them after the grand jury’s decision. Because the criminal investigation was ongoing, they haven’t been able to read incident reports or see Vail’s autopsy report, he said.

Iamele said the family knows one thing for certain — that things didn’t have to happen this way.

“It is our understanding that young Mr. Vail was surveilled going to his job at a gas station,” Iamele said. “Any search and seizure could have occurred between 9 and 5. Nobody was there. Instead, they came in the middle of the night.”

Vail’s family believes he was stunned and confused at the time of the shooting because of the flash-bang. Iamele condemned the nature of the warrant service.

“When you have the aura of a military unit, it sort of takes away from the civil society that we live in,” he said.

The family has also argued that bullet holes in a curtain that match up to bullet holes in the home’s wall indicate that Vail could have been looking out the window to investigate the commotion caused by the flash-bang.

The family believes injuries to Vail’s hands show that he was holding back the curtain, while the sheriff’s office has said the injuries, coupled with damage to the 12-gauge shotgun, are consistent with Vail pointing the gun at the deputies.

Iamele said Vail’s family has not decided whether they will pursue any other legal action yet.

“One thing we would like to see before we make that decision is all of the reports from Howard County, all of the reports from Frederick County, all of the reports from the medical examiner,” he said. “Thus far, we have not been able to access those documents.”

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