Grand jury indicts Tyler Laughter for involuntary manslaughter

Published 4:24 pm Thursday, June 22, 2023

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Polk County Sheriff’s Office shares statement regarding shooting investigation

POLK COUNTY– On Monday, June 12, a Polk County grand jury formally indicted Tyler Laughter for involuntary manslaughter for causing the death of Talia Petoia.

Petoia died on March 10 after being shot by Laughter, who negligently discharged a firearm, investigators say.

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Polk County Sheriff’s Office says it began its investigation the evening of Petoia’s death. After consulting with the district attorney’s office, the case was presented to a magistrate who issued a warrant for involuntary manslaughter against Laughter, who was arrested March 17.  

Involuntary manslaughter is defined as the unintentional killing of a human being by an unlawful act not amounting to a felony or by an act done in a criminally negligent way. 

Officials say they conducted numerous interviews and follow-ups as part of a thorough investigation. The full investigation, including the autopsy report, was presented to the grand jury, who then issued an indictment for involuntary manslaughter. The case will be prosecuted by the 42nd District Attorney’s Office.

In a statement, the Sheriff’s Office says that in the months following the shooting, “there have been many baseless rumors and speculations regarding the investigation and prosecution of this case.” Officials responded to those speculations in the statement.

“Death investigations can take many months to be fully completed,” the statement says as to why Laughter was charged before the investigation was completed. “It is not at all uncommon [to] consult with the prosecutor’s office on the facts and evidence at hand in the meantime to determine if they should go ahead and seek a charge from a magistrate.” 

In response to some speculation by the public that Laughter was related to members of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, the statement said, “Unfortunately in a small jurisdiction, it is almost impossible to avoid any familial relationships coming up in some fashion in major investigations, but none of the investigators involved in this case have any relationship with the defendant and his family.” 

Members in the community have also asked why the SBI was not involved in the investigation.

“PCSO investigators have presented all of the evidence gathered including summaries of interviews and statements made by the deceased and the defendant to the district attorney’s office throughout the investigation,” the statement says. “The district attorney’s office has made no recommendation that they feel the SBI has been needed to supplement any part of the investigation.”

The case was presented to a grand jury three months after the incident because death investigations take time to receive all required reports and evidence, the statement explains. The grand jury is scheduled to appear in Polk County only three to four times of year, with June 12 being the first grand jury session available. The session wasn’t public because the N.C. law requires that grand jury sessions be held in private to allow members to deliberate without any influence.  

The Sheriff’s Office also said that the county attorney and district attorney recommended it not make any special public comments on the case that could cause any public bias should it proceed to trial.

The statement says Sheriff Wright sympathizes with the Petoia family and has offered to meet with them. Sheriff Wright recognizes the many hours of hard work that went into the case, and wants to assure the public that the PCSO will continue to conduct all investigations based only on facts and evidence to ensure successful prosecution of defendants such as Laughter.

This case is currently set for August 15.