Deputy did not use excessive force in China Buffet shooting

Published 12:53 am Wednesday, October 15, 2014

By Shavonne Potts

Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook has determined former Rowan County Sheriff’s Deputy John Kempf did not use excessive force following the shooting of 20-year-old Sakhar Willie-Pet Robinson, whom authorities said went into China Buffet restaurant on March 25 armed with a shotgun.

Cook said in a statement she’s reviewed the SBI investigation into the shooting and concluded the evidence supports Kempf did not violate the criminal law as it relates to the use of deadly force. Robinson was shot three times in the upper torso.

“The evidence further supports that Mr. Sakhar Willie-Pet Robinson is the only person who engaged in any criminal activity during this tragic incident.”

As a result of the finding, Cook said, no criminal charges will be filed against Kempf.

According to Sheriff Kevin Auten, Deputy Kempf no longer works for the sheriff’s office, but for Hillsborough Police Department. Auten said he left in good standing with Rowan County.

“We thought the officer acted appropriately,” Auten said, adding that “it’s unfortunate that’s what happened,” he said of Robinson.

He said the Salisbury Police and the SBI have always done a thorough investigation.

Since a law enforcement officer was involved in the shooting, the SBI took over the investigation. The Salisbury Police also aided in the investigation.

Kempf, who was off-duty and at the restaurant, located at 205 North Arlington St., was eating dinner with his wife. Police officials and witnesses said Robinson entered the restaurant around 9:03 p.m. wearing a red bandanna over his face, a toboggan, gloves and was carrying the gun.

Kempf later told authorities Robinson passed him and said “don’t look at me, I’ll kill you.”

According to Kempf, Robinson yelled at the restaurant employees to “get back” or “get to the back,” a statement said. The officer drew his handgun and according to the statement Kempf believed he told Robinson “Sheriff’s Office, drop it.”

Kempf said Robinson turned towards the officer and his wife, at which time Kempf fire his handgun.

“He stated that he believed Mr. Robinson may open fire since he had already threatened to kill him,” the statement said.

Kempf’s wife told authorities she saw Robinson and that he pointed the shotgun in her direction and yelled, “listen here” or “listen up” and he started to walk towards the restaurant employees. Kempf’s wife said her husband requested someone to call 911.

“One witness stated that Mr. Robinson had the rifle raised and moved toward the rear of the restaurant and was speaking in a commanding voice,” the statement said.

The witness said he heard Deputy Kempf say, “off-duty Sheriff” and then heard shots.  Another witness said he heard Deputy Kempf tell Robinson “to put the gun down.”

Employees at China Buffet indicated that they believed Robinson was going to rob them when he walked into the restaurant pointing a gun.  One employee said Robinson was pointing a gun at her and told her to come here.  The employee said she closed her eyes and heard someone say, “don’t move” then she heard shots.    

The Salisbury Police Department and Rowan EMS arrived at the scene.  Robinson died at the scene.  A security camera at the China Buffet restaurant captured the incident and corroborated the witnesses’ statements, Cook said.

The SBI investigation confirmed a shotgun was found next to Robinson, but was not loaded with ammunition.

Other items recovered during the investigation included four .40-caliber spent shell casings, which matched Deputy Kempf’s gun, a firearms exam showed.

Authorities said in March the Sheriff’s Office policy allowed Kempf to carry his department issued weapon, a .40-caliber Glock, concealed as an off-duty officer.

An autopsy and toxicology report from the medical examiner’s office showed Robinson was not under the influence of alcohol.

Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.