HOUSTON (AP) — Prosecutors on Monday dropped charges against a 22-year-old man who authorities initially believed was involved in a shooting that wounded him and two others at a Houston-area community college.
Carlton Berry was arrested soon after the Jan. 22 shootings at Lone Star College and charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. But authorities later accused another man, Trey Foster, 22, of being the shooter.
Foster has been charged with two counts of aggravated assault and faces a charge of resisting arrest in an earlier case. He was arrested Friday in the Dallas suburb of Plano.
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia defended his agency's initial arrest of Berry, saying two of the victims initially indicated that Barry was the shooter. He also said Berry at first refused to talk to investigators, and it was only after he was charged that he pointed authorities to Foster.
"I support my investigators. I continue to support them," Garcia said. "I remain proud of their thoroughness and their relentless pursuit of the truth. They did what they were supposed to do."
Investigators say the shooting happened after 25-year-old Jody Neal bumped into Foster while Foster was walking with Berry. Foster and Neal argued but went their separate ways.
But when the two ran into each other 30 minutes later, they argued again and Foster fired at Neal, wounding him in the abdomen and leg. Berry also was shot and wounded, and a maintenance worker for the college, Bobby Cliburn, 55, was hit in the leg.
Authorities say at least 10 shots were fired, causing panic and a leading to a campus lockdown.
Berry's attorney, Robert A. Jones, said his client never should have been charged or jailed because the evidence showed he was a victim. Berry was shot in the left hip, which Jones said was an indication that Berry might have been facing away or running away from the shooter.
"He said that continually, whenever (authorities) talked to him, that he didn't do anything. But that wasn't enough. Then they started their investigation based upon his statement and they realized he didn't do anything," Jones said.
Prosecutor Alison Baimbridge said authorities dropped the charges in the interest of justice. She said that as with any investigation, the more witness interviews and evidence collecting that are done, authorities are "better able to determine who was where, what actually occurred."
Charges were formally dropped during a court hearing Monday, and Berry was later released from jail.
Foster made his initial court appearance Monday. He is being held on bonds totaling $100,000, and if he posts them, a judge ordered him subject to GPS monitoring and a curfew.
Quanell X, a community activist and a spokesman for Foster's family, said Foster told him Berry had nothing to do with the shooting. Berry and Foster apparently knew each other from school.
"It was inappropriate and wrong for Trey to have a pistol on campus," he said.
Quanell X said Foster legally bought the .40-caliber handgun authorities say was used in the shooting at a sporting goods store in Houston. Foster took a class for a concealed handgun license but had not completed the process to get a license, he said.
Garcia said investigators confirmed Foster bought the gun at the store, but noted there are questions about whether he should have been allowed to do so because of his criminal history.
Jess Myers, a spokesman for the sporting goods store, St. Paul, Minn.-based Gander Mountain, said the company couldn't provide firearms purchase records or comment on an ongoing investigation.
"Gander Mountain operates in strict compliance with all local, state and federal laws regarding firearms ownership and fully cooperates with law enforcement," Myers said in an email.
Quanell X said Foster bought the gun to defend himself after he was shot in the face a couple of years ago and had recently been receiving threats. He said Foster panicked during the shooting.
"He was very remorseful and sorry that innocent people got shot," he said.