BERRYVILLE — The confession of a man wounded in a gunfight with a Clarke County Sheriff’s Office deputy is out, but police cruiser video of the shooting remains in.On Monday in Clarke County Circuit Court, Judge Alexander R. Iden ruled Timothy Bias Neal’s confession was inadmissible because he wasn’t first read his Miranda right against self-incrimination before being interrogated. Neal wasn’t under arrest when he was interrogated on Oct. 5, 2019, at Winchester Medical Center shortly after being shot in the right arm by then-Sgt. Nicholas Donald Chambers.
However, Iden ruled that state police Special Agent Eric Deel had probable cause to arrest Neal before the interview, and it was reasonable for Neal to have believed he couldn’t leave the hospital room without being arrested. Iden quoted a driver who stopped at the scene of the shooting, who is seen on the video telling a wounded Neal, who was lying on his back, “You’re not going to die, but you’re in some serious (expletive).”
Neal was later charged with attempted capital murder of a law enforcement officer, use of a firearm in a felony, malicious shooting at a vehicle and possession of a firearm by a non-violent felon.
With a state trooper and a deputy outside Neal’s hospital room during the interview, Iden ruled Neal’s freedom of movement was curtailed despite not being under arrest. “For that reason, the court grants the motion to suppress,” he said.
The incident began at Nall’s Farm Market at 4869 Harry Flood Byrd Highway (Va. 7). Neal asked Nall’s employees to call an ambulance because he said he was having trouble walking. But he left the store before the ambulance arrived and began walking east in the highway median.
Clarke County deputies respond to all ambulance calls, and Chambers stopped Neal at the Hawthorne Lane intersection. As Chambers was on the radio in the cruiser checking Neal’s driver’s license with a dispatcher, Neal can be seen in the video approaching the cruiser and firing a shot from a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol at Chambers from about 30 yards away. The bullet hit the cruiser’s front bumper.
Chambers moved to the passenger side of the cruiser and took cover as Neal racked the slide of the pistol. Chambers then fired two shots and Neal fell to the ground. Neal continued to rack the slide while on the ground. Chambers — a former Berryville police officer whose second stint with the Sheriff’s Office was from 2005 until retiring in December of 2019 — then fired a third shot, striking Neal, who dropped the pistol.
“Why the (expletive) did you shoot at me man!” Chambers asked Neal as he held him at gunpoint.
“Please kill me,” Neal told Chambers. “Jesus, please do it man.”
Neal was then handcuffed and placed in an ambulance. The handcuffs were removed when Deel interviewed him in a hospital room.
Deel, an officer since 1989, began the approximately 20-minute interview, which was recorded on audio, by telling Neal that he was not under arrest. He repeated it a few times during the interview.
“I’m not saying there aren’t charges pending, but you are not under arrest,” Deel said. “But to be honest with you, that’s coming soon.”
Neal, 34, of the 800 block of Second Street in Herndon, told Deel he had been visiting his mother in Berryville and had snorted cocaine the night before the shooting. He said he was hooked on heroin and was “angry,” “paranoid” and “scared” prior to the shooting. Deel asked Neal if he was attempting suicide by cop, a scenario in which a person goads police into shooting them.
“Did you want him to shoot you?” Deel asked. “You’re shaking you’re head yes.”
Neal said he didn’t remember pulling the gun out, but admitted shooting at Chambers.
“I don’t know why I did that dumb (expletive), but I’ve got to do time for it,” he said. “I’m telling you, I’m losing my mind.”
In seeking to keep the confession as evidence, Anne Williams, county commonwealth’s attorney, told Iden that Neal wasn’t handcuffed during the interview. She said whether he would’ve been arrested if he tried to leave the hospital room was hypothetical and irrelevant. “Miranda warnings are only triggered when a defendant is in custody,” Williams said.
But Timothy S. Coyne, area chief public defender, countered that Neal was in custody from the moment he was handcuffed at gunpoint as he lay on Harry Byrd Highway. He said it “defies credulity” to argue otherwise.
“He wasn’t going anywhere except to jail,” Coyne said. “Every indication was that Mr. Neal was not free to leave that room.”
Neal is due back in court for a plea entry or setting of a trial date at 9 a.m. July 19.