Friday, October 21, 2016, at 11:50 a.m., as a Haywood County Sheriff’s Office detention officer was transporting two inmates from Haywood County to Buncombe County, the inmates escaped from the detention transport vehicle. While one of the inmates was quickly apprehended, the other got away from the officer, gaining access to a gun and a nearby vehicle which had a six-year-old child inside. This inmate proceeded to lead local law enforcement in a car chase which ultimately resulted in a non-fatal officer-involved shooting in the center of downtown Waynesville.
Robert Edward Branning and Joshua Douglas Phillips were being transported back to the Buncombe County Detention Center after their 96-hour hearing in Haywood County regarding indictments. Branning was indicted on charges of possession of firearm by felon and habitual felon, while Phillips was indicted on the charge of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill.
The inmates had been moved from the Haywood County Detention Center to the Buncombe County Detention Center to be housed several weeks prior to Friday’s incident for their safety because of threats by other inmates.
During the drive on I-40 back to Buncombe County, the transport officer observed the inmates causing a disturbance in the backseat. As the officer pulled the car over at exit 31 in Canton to address the situation, the inmates escaped from the vehicle.
As the inmates ran away from the car, an off-duty police officer, who was traveling with a friend and the friend’s six-year-old nephew, pulled off onto the same exit as they were planning to make a stop on the way to Asheville. The off-duty officer noticed the detention officer pursuing the escaped inmates and proceeded to try to help.
Both individuals in the vehicle exited the vehicle and tried to assist the detention officer in apprehending the inmates. While Joshua Phillips was quickly apprehended, Branning, after getting into a scuffle with the off-duty officer, managed to gain access to the off-duty officer’s vehicle, and also to a gun inside the vehicle. Branning fled the scene in the now stolen vehicle with the child inside as the off-duty officer was being dragged several hundred feet in their attempt to stop him.
The child was dropped off several miles away unharmed.
The carjacked vehicle was spotted by law enforcement several minutes later in the Bethel community on US 276. When officers attempted to stop the vehicle and a chase ensued.
Near the city limits of Waynesville, the Waynesville Police Department used stop sticks to flatten the front tires of the fleeing vehicle.
Branning continued in the hijacked vehicle on US 276 toward Waynesville, then turned on to Main Street as Sheriff’s deputies and Waynesville Police officers continued to pursue the vehicle.
Branning stopped the vehicle on Main Street in the center of downtown Waynesville and displayed a gun. Haywood County Deputy Detective M.J. Reagan responded with gunfire.
Branning was transported to an area hospital and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation was called in to investigate the shooting, which is protocol for officer- involved shootings.
A review by the detention center command staff indicates that both inmates were properly restrained in accordance with Sheriff’s Office policy upon exiting the Haywood County detention facility.
The Haywood County Sheriff’s Office is fully cooperating with the ongoing investigation by the SBI.
Additional charges related to Friday’s incident will be forthcoming as the investigation continues