EXCLUSIVE: Eyewitness to Eden shooting said suspect told deputies to 'get off his property'

John Tufts
San Angelo Standard-Times

EDEN —  A municipal employee took cover behind a city pickup truck when gunfire rang out earlier this week and ended the lives of two Texas lawmen in the small town of Eden.

The shooting happened Monday, May 10, 2021, at the beginning of National Police Week. Hours after flags around the country were raised to remember officers lost or injured in the line of duty, two Concho County deputies were gunned down in the small city of Eden (pop. 1,899).

Community members gathered in Eden for a vigil a day after two Concho County sheriff deputies were killed.

A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety said the deputies, Samuel Leonard and Stephen Jones, were fatally wounded while making a seemingly routine call for a dog complaint.

A City of Eden employee who arrived at the house was critically wounded after being shot in the stomach.

Members of the Texas Rangers later arrested Jeffrey Nicholas, 28, who was booked into Tom Green County Jail for capital murder of a police officer. His bond has been set at $4 million.

Jeffrey Nicholas

More:Two Concho County sheriff's deputies killed during shootout Monday in Eden

The Standard-Times reached out to multiple agencies requesting information about the arrest of Nicholas. As of noon Wednesday, May 12, 2021, official details on what led to the fatal shooting were scarce.

Eden city employee: 'I saw him pull the gun.'

Eden resident David Hutchings said he was standing about 30 feet away when the gunfire erupted. He gave his account of what happened Monday night.

"I was right on the street," Hutchings said. "I saw (Nicholas) pull the gun."

Hutchings is an employee for the City of Eden in their department for Public Works and Services. His job, he said, involves "a little bit of everything" for the city, some of which entails repairing water leaks to municipal sewer lines as well as assisting with Animal Control.

That last role is what brought Hutchings to the 100 block of Bryan Street for a dog complaint on May 10.

A house located at 112 Drinkard St. in Eden, seen here in this Tuesday, May 11, 2021 photo, was the scene of the fatal shooting of two Concho County sheriff's deputies on Monday.

Hutchings said he and two city employees were notified two dogs had bitten someone earlier that day in Eden. When they arrived to collect the dogs, he said the homeowner fled with both animals.

"He tried to escape with both the dogs, and the cops pulled him over," Hutchings said. "They got one of them and put them in the cage."

But one dog got loose and ran into "Jeff Nicholas's yard."

According to Hutchings, Nicholas did not own either animal. "It had nothing to do with him," Hutchings said, then stated Nicholas told both Concho County deputies they couldn't enter his yard to collect the dog.

"Jeff told them to 'get off his property'," Hutchings said, noting Nicholas told both deputies he "has his civil rights."

Hutchings stood about 30 feet away on the street as the confrontation escalated into violence, which according to him, took roughly 15 seconds.

Hutchings said Nicholas told both Jones and Leonard, "I will shoot, y'all."

"And they walked up towards him, rushed him, and he pulled a gun, and shots were fired," Hutchings said.

An arrest affidavit obtained by the Standard-Times states a struggle ensued between Nicholas and both deputies. During the struggle, Jones and Leonard "attempted to use an electronic control device on Nicholas in order to gain compliance."

Nicholas took out a "semi-automatic pistol and fired, striking and killing both deputies," the affidavit stated.

"I was there to collect the dogs ... I don't think we ever got those dogs," Hutchings said.

As gunshots rang out, Hutchings said he and another city employee took cover behind a city-owned pickup. Then a bullet went through the pickup's door and struck a third city employee, Hutchings' boss.

"It hit my boss ... in the stomach," Hutchings said. "Everything went quiet. (He) got out of the truck and said he was shot. I threw him in the back of the truck and rushed him into the emergency room."

A DPS spokesperson on Wednesday identified Hutchings' boss as Eden city employee Ronnie Winans.

Winans was transported to Shannon Medical Center by Concho County EMS and is in stable condition, according to a DPS news release. 

Affidavit: Suspect confessed and apologized for killing deputies and wounding city employee

During an interview with investigators, "Nicholas made confessions and apologies for shooting and killing the deputies, and for shooting a City of Eden employee," an affidavit stated.

On Tuesday night, Hutchings attended a candlelight vigil in honor of the two slain deputies. He and a group of nearly 300 people congregated en masse at the historic city square of Eden, 120 Paint Rock St.

They came to mourn, to cry, to hug and hold one another and begin the healing process after what local authorities called "a senseless tragedy."

"I knew Stephen Jones," Hutchings said. "He was a nice guy. I didn't know (Leonard). He had just barely started."

"This will only make our town stronger," said Courtney Torres, who helped organize the candlelight vigil. Torres, clutching a microphone and standing underneath a large gazebo, looked out over a sea of people dressed mostly in blue.

"We will overcome this, because we are a family," she said.

People gather in a park in Eden, Texas on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, for a candlelight vigil in honor of two Concho County sheriff's deputies who were killed in the line of duty on Monday.

Hutchings echoed what Torres had to say. The town of Eden, which sits about 160 miles west of Austin and 45 miles southeast of San Angelo, has a population of just around 1,900. 

"It's a small town, and this whole town is a family," he said.

Funeral services for Leonard will be Monday, May 17, at the First Baptist Church in Lamesa. Funeral services for Jones will be on Wednesday, May 19, at PaulAnn Baptist Church in San Angelo.

Others are reading:'This will only make our town stronger.' Eden mourns lives of slain Concho County deputies

John Tufts covers enterprise and investigative topics in West Texas. Send him a news tip at JTufts@Gannett.com