In call, accused Deptford officer suggested victim shot himself

Posted: February 09, 2013

An off-duty Deptford police officer accused of killing a Woodbury man last month told police in an emergency call that the victim shot himself while "playing with" a loaded weapon.

"Ah, he was, he was playing with one of my weapons, I, I don't know how it happened. . . .," Officer James Stuart said, according to a six-page redacted transcript released Friday that includes the 31/2-minute call to his department seeking an ambulance Jan. 5. " . . . It was loaded and ah, he, there was a shot fired," Stuart said at another point.

David Compton, 27, a Widener University graduate with a mechanical engineering degree, was shot once in the head around 5 a.m. in Stuart's Deptford home.

Stuart was initially charged with two counts of aggravated assault and released. The Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office upgraded the charges to murder after Compton was removed from life support Jan. 11. Stuart was suspended with pay.

Shortly after the shooting, the South Jersey Media Group filed an Open Public Records request seeking the recording. Stuart's attorney, John Eastlack Jr., sought to prevent the release. He argued that there was an expectation of privacy during emergency calls.

During the call, which was not made to 911, Compton's voice can be heard at "at least two points," Assistant County Prosecutor Michael S. Curwin said at a Jan. 18 hearing.

At the hearing, Superior Court Judge Georgia M. Curio said Compton's words "are protected by a reasonable expectation of privacy, both his and his family's," and cannot be disclosed.

She ordered the Prosecutor's Office to give the court a copy of the transcript of Stuart's call without Compton's words within 21 days and then release it.

"To have those utterances made public would just compound their pain," Curwin said of Compton's family.

Curio said she heard one of those utterances.

"Hearing that was impactful to me, a stranger. I can only expect that it would be exponentially so for Mr. Compton's surviving family members," she said.

On Friday, Curio ordered the Prosecutor's Office to release the emergency-call recording after removing audio of Compton by Feb. 25.

Eastlack, who described the shooting as "a horrible accident," could not be reached Friday.

Daniel Gee, a Marlton attorney serving as a Compton family spokesman, said he could not immediately comment, citing a pending investigation.

During the call, Stuart, a five-year veteran of the force, gave his badge number - 5238 - to the dispatcher and said: ". . . We have a man who is shot in his cheek."

He told a county dispatcher that the shooting happened in his home, on the 200 block of Stanford Road.

He asked if help was on the way for Compton, a South Korean native raised in the United States.

"I got pressure on his cheek right now," Stuart said at another point.

Talking to another dispatcher and a sergeant later, the county dispatcher wondered if the call was a hoax.

"I mean, I don't know if this shift does it, but I know the other shifts will, like, mess around late in the morning," she told the sergeant, noting that the call had come in on an internal side phone line.

At another point, a second dispatcher said: "Oh, I don't know. It doesn't sound like he's joking around at all."


Contact Darran Simon at 856-779-3829 or at dsimon@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @darransimon.

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