A conflict that started as a traffic dispute last spring in northwest Roanoke, then erupted into a shootout that left three men injured, has seen new twists and legal complications, particularly over the past week.
On Oct. 3, days before a jury trial, the primary victim and material witness in the case invoked Fifth Amendment protections to avoid giving testimony.
Then last week, two defendants saw their cases dropped and the third man accused, Anthony Brian Barnett, now faces additional charges, as well as new scrutiny from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The situation began more than four months ago, just before 1 p.m. May 29, as Barnett was leaving the parking lot of Bob & Cheryl’s restaurant on Shenandoah Avenue. Barnett’s Infiniti was pulling out as a box truck was coming in.
Though the vehicles didn’t collide, they passed closely enough that Barnett exchanged words with the other driver, Miquel “Shane” Harper.
Barnett, 33, drove on, but almost immediately circled back and confronted Harper and his son at the restaurant. He left again, but got on the phone and called for backup from Lamar Antoine Barnett, 34, and Floyd Mitchell Harris, 39.
When those three men confronted Harper aggressively outside Bob & Cheryl’s, Harper drew a pistol, which he then used to shoot and injure both Barnetts. Harris, meanwhile, retrieved his own handgun and wounded Harper with it.
This conflict was captured by multiple security cameras.
Harris and the Barnetts drove off to a nearby hospital, but were arrested separately, all at later dates. All three were eventually charged with a string of felonies including attempted murder, malicious wounding, conspiracy and gun violations.
Harper, however, remained at the scene after the shooting and gave a statement to police. He was not charged.
Fast-forward to Oct. 3, a few days before Harris was due to be tried by a jury: Harper appeared in Roanoke Circuit Court, with his lawyer Chris Kowalczuk, and announced he would not testify against Harris or the Barnetts unless he was granted immunity.
“If he is asked a question about that day, he will invoke the Fifth Amendment. Period,” Kowalczuk said in court.
At that hearing, Harris’ defense attorney, David Damico, asked Harper if he feared he might incriminate himself.
“Yes,” Harper told him.
Harper’s prior statement to police can’t be used in court and it’s unclear what he told investigators about the incident. Prosecutors have said Harper was “legally allowed to carry” the pistol he used, and a search of online court records shows that, at least in Virginia, Harper has no felony convictions that would make it against the law for him to have or use a firearm.
Further, during that Oct. 3 hearing, assistant prosecutor Joshua Dietz maintained there was no plan to charge Harper with anything (“If he was going to be indicted, he would be indicted by now,” Dietz said), but he added that his office doesn’t typically issue agreements for immunity.
The weekend after that hearing, however, Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney Donald Caldwell did extend Harper an offer of immunity, but ultimately no agreement was reached and, on Monday and Wednesday, respectively, all charges were dropped against Floyd Harris and Lamar Barnett.
“It is specifically because the individual we felt is the victim in the case has refused to cooperate. For reasons that escape me,” Caldwell said in an interview.
Both Floyd Harris and Lamar Barnett could be indicted again at a later date, however, and during Harris’ Oct. 7 hearing, his lawyer, Damico, challenged the prosecution’s request to drop Harris’ charges, launching an effort to either force the trial to go forward or win Harris an outright dismissal.
“I think it’s clear what’s happening here, that for whatever their reasons, they weren’t ready to go to trial,” Damico argued of the commonwealth’s case, and he declared Harris was eager to resolve his legal issues then and there: “I am ready to go. He is ready to go.”
The judge denied Damico’s request, however, and by midweek all charges against Harris and Lamar Barnett had been nolle prossed, or dropped with the option to refile later. Harris was released from bond and Lamar Barnett, previously held without bail, was set free Wednesday.
That leaves one defendant remaining from the incident at Bob & Cheryl’s.
“It is our theory of the case that Anthony Barnett ... was the person that brought on this conflict and began the fight that led to this shooting,” Roanoke assistant prosecutor Andrew Stephens said in court last week.
Anthony Barnett is now scheduled to be tried next month on six felony charges from the shooting.
He was the last of the three men taken into custody, almost two months after the shooting, on July 20 during a police stop near Garst Mill Road.
Drug charges ensue
Prosecutors at a bond hearing said Barnett drove his car into an apartment complex parking lot in southwest Roanoke County, then allegedly jumped from the still-moving vehicle, which hit a tree. He fled, and investigators claim that as he went he tried to rid himself of a bag containing drugs and several thousand dollars in cash, but was apprehended.
His mugshots, taken that day, show abrasions on his face, and earlier this month he was indicted on two new felony drug counts, plus a charge of eluding, all from that July 20 incident.
But all of this activity — again, sparked by a lunchtime disagreement between two drivers whose vehicles did not touch — has brought still more legal woes for Barnett, as well as his girlfriend, Aminee Jewell Davenport.
Soon after his arrest, he was the subject of a federal warrant that led to DEA searches of his home, Davenport’s residence and a third Roanoke location.
The warrant’s affidavit, filed Aug. 6, accused Barnett of being “a source of supply for heroin in the Roanoke Valley,” and it claimed there was evidence he was continuing to direct drug distribution from jail, by telephone, through calls to Davenport. Phone conversations by inmates can be monitored by law enforcement.
The affidavit did not describe exactly how the couple was phrasing the messages in question, but it gave details of investigative surveillance undertaken against Davenport in late July.
“Recorded jail calls between Davenport and Barnett indicated that Barnett was instructing Davenport how to weigh and package drugs” during that period, the affidavit alleges.
An Aug. 7 search of Barnett’s home in the 3400 block of Signal Hill Road shows that investigators seized phones, an “undetermined amount” of cash, and “two plastic bags of a crystal-like substance.” That same day, they took a phone, an electronic tablet and “indica yummie gummies,” or marijuana-based edibles, from Davenport’s house; and, at a residence described in the warrant as a “stash house” allegedly used by the couple, agents found “3 clear baggies containing powder substance suspected heroin” and two backpacks, returns show.
Barnett has not been charged as a result of those searches, according to online court records, but Davenport has.
In early September, federal prosecutors brought a six-count indictment against her, alleging that between December and August, she variously possessed and distributed quantities of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. She was arrested soon after but freed on $15,000 bond. A motion was filed Thursday in district court to move her upcoming trial from November to February.
“Ms. Davenport had nothing to do with the shooting on Shenandoah Avenue and we have no further comment beyond that,” her attorney, Rob Dean, said Friday afternoon.
Anthony Barnett’s lawyer, Aaron Houchens, could not be reached for comment.
Barnett is scheduled to go to trial on the shooting charges Nov. 14, and his court date on the drug and eluding offenses is set for Dec. 23.