On Wednesday, Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp proferred a detailed review of a Virginia State Police investigation into the officer-involved shooting of 34-year-old Nathan Curtis Castle, Duffield, on a southbound on-ramp of U.S. Route 23 on the outskirts of Big Stone Gap near Union High School.
He said the three deputies displayed “incredible courage and restraint” during a standoff of about 20 minutes after Castle’s battered pickup finally became stuck on a grassy shoulder of the on-ramp after a chase along State Route 610 through Powell Valley by a deputy who tried to pull Castle over because of his erratic driving.
Castle not only went off the pavement several times, enough to get the attention of the first deputy who happened to be patrolling the area, but battered his truck against guardrails during the ensuing chase, collisions that damaged the vehicle so much that the right front wheel came off.
“You might imagine how scary that scenario might be,” Slemp said of the hazards Castle posed for other drivers.
On three wheels, Castle proceeded through the valley — about a 13-minute drive in normal circumstances — to where Route 610 intersects with U.S. 23 near Union High School, avoiding spike sticks laid down by other deputies and making his way onto the on-ramp, where his truck finally spun out into the grass.
Eyewitness reports, including civilians, as well as body and vehicle cameras that recorded the ensuing standoff, prove that Castle wielded a 12-gauge shotgun, often pointing it at officers, Slemp said, all while ignoring repeated commands by the three deputies to drop the weapon and surrender.
Castle even tried to push his disabled truck from the grassy shoulder while using the shotgun to press the accelerator, Slemp said, making deputies wonder if he might blow the engine in those attempts.
Slemp said the deputies “tried multiple times to de-escalate the situation” during “20 dangerous, stressful minutes,” with the officers taking defensive positions behind their vehicles and below an embankment.
Slemp said Castle was a convicted felon serving probation when the incident occurred, and officers later found a baggy containing methamphetamine along with an opened bottle of brandy in the truck.
The autopsy results remain pending, so it is not known if Castle had either of those substances in his system, Slemp said, but a convicted felon who is serving probation is prohibited from being in possession of a firearm.
Slemp said the shotgun alone might have served as the motive for Castle to attempt to outrun the deputy on Route 610, although possession of a prohibited drug and alcohol in a vehicle would have been violations that could have sent Castle back to prison. Slemp provided a criminal history of Castle that included a number of violent offenses including shooting into an occupied dwelling.
Slemp said the three deputies told VSP investigators Castle was “behaving very irrationally” throughout the standoff and “threatened countless lives” by driving so erratically on the narrow, winding Route 610 — on just three wheels to boot.
“We are so thankful there were no other casualties,” Slemp said, not only for the officers who risked their lives when confronting Castle but other drivers on Route 610 and in the vicinity of the on-ramp as well.
The deputies finally fired their weapons when Castle took a “tactical pose” next to the rear of the truck and raised the shotgun to a shooting stance while pointing it at the deputies, Slemp said.
Slemp thanked the VSP for a “thorough, unbiased, independent” investigation that proved the deputies acted well within their capacities as law enforcement officers. He said the names of the deputies will not be released — as permitted by state law — to ensure their own safety.
Wise County Sheriff Ronnie Oakes said the deputies have been off without pay during the state investigation and corresponding review of the report by Slemp’s office and that they are receiving counseling and doing about as well as can be expected given the circumstances.
While the state investigation remains officially open to await the autopsy results, Slemp said the deputies were given no other choice by Castle for what transpired and did their duty to protect themselves and citizens from harm, and, thus, from his perspective, the matter is closed.