Suspects stole beer before Greensboro police officer was fatally shot, warrants show

Greensboro Police Sgt. Philip Dale Nix was killed Saturday afternoon after approaching two men who had stolen 10 cases of beer at a Sheetz gas station, according to arrest warrants.

James Justice Foster, 18, and John Walter Morrison, 28, both from Winston-Salem, took multiple cases of Modelo beer from the store with a total value of $232.90, according to warrants obtained by The News & Observer.

Nix, who was off-duty at the time, approached the suspects, Greensboro Police Chief John Thompson said at a Saturday night news conference but didn’t detail how Nix may have intervened. Foster is accused of shooting him, warrants show.

The gas station is in the unincorporated community of Colfax, just west of Greensboro. Another off-duty Greensboro police officer and a Guilford County paramedic were on scene and gave aid to Nix, a 23-veteran of the Greensboro Police Department. Nix succumbed to his injuries at a hospital, Thompson said.

The shooting prompted the department to request a Blue Alert, a mass message notifying the public that a law enforcement agent had been either killed or seriously injured and that a suspect poses a danger to the public. The alert said two men driving a Black Chevrolet Equinox, last seen heading west on Interstate 40, were associated with the crime.

The Greensboro Police Department announced the arrests and charges on Sunday.

Foster has been charged with first-degree murder, misdemeanor larceny and misdemeanor conspiracy to commit larceny and is being held with no bond. His first court appearance is on Tuesday.

Morrison is charged with accessory after the fact to first-degree murder, as well as misdemeanor larceny and misdemeanor conspiracy to commit larceny. The arrest warrant said Morrison assisted in Foster’s escape after the shooting. He accompanied Foster to sell the stolen beer and purchase drugs. Later, he urged Foster to remove the registration plate from the suspect’s vehicle because “they are hot now.”

Morrison had a pending charge for failing to appear in court. He is also being held with no bond.

A third suspect, 18-year-old Winston-Salem resident Z’quriah Le’Pearce Blackwell, is charged with accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. According to her arrest warrant, Blackwell helped Foster evade arrest after knowing he had committed felony murder. Blackwell allegedly told Foster that “they needed to get out of there because he just killed a cop,” warrants said.

Blackwell then joined Foster to sell the beer and buy narcotics, warrants show. She is being held with a $500,000 bond.

The Blue Alert was the first ever sent in North Carolina since the system was implemented in 2017, the Center for Missing Persons archives show. It was issued at 6:10 p.m. and canceled at 7:52 p.m. Police have not said how or where the suspects were captured but that the Winston-Salem Police Department assisted in making the arrests.

Greensboro Police Sgt. Philip Dale Nix was killed while he was off-duty Dec. 20, 2023. He served with the department for 23 years.

Greensboro Police Sgt. Philip Dale Nix was killed while he was off-duty Dec. 20, 2023. He served with the department for 23 years.

Nix remembered as victim advocate

Nix held multiple assignments during his 23-year career with the Greensboro Police Department, most recently as the supervisor of the Family Victims Unit. The unit investigates sexual assault, domestic violence, and crimes against youth. The division works with the Guilford County Family Justice Center, which this weekend heralded Nix and the work he had done in the city.

“His passion and dedication to serving victims of crime and his commitment to the mission of the FJC were like none other,” the organization said in a Facebook post. “He often referenced our FJC partnership as family. Dale did whatever it took daily to promote the FJC and impact the lives of those in our community.”

Saturday night, an emotional Thompson fought back tears and wiped his eyes several times as he slowly said: “He was a loving husband, father, son and brother with 22 years of service to the department in this community.”

Nix was the current assistant team leader of the GPD Honor Guard. He served in several departments in his tenure, including Criminal Investigations Division (CID) detective, patrol corporal and patrol sergeant, the department said.

The Greensboro Fire Department expressed its condolences for his death and noted strong family ties between Nix and the fire department.

Nix’s father, Eddie Nix, retired as a captain, while his brother, Dan Nix, is currently a firefighter with the department. Nix’s uncle is a retired assistant chief while his cousin is a current captain.

“During this challenging time, the Greensboro Fire Department stands in unwavering solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Greensboro Police Department,” according to the department’s Facebook statement. “The loss of Sergeant Nix resonates not only within his immediate family but also reverberates throughout our entire community.”

Condolences, support for Greensboro Police Department

On the platform X, formerly Twitter, Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan wrote, “Today we lost one of own in a senseless act of violence. Heartfelt condolences to his family & the extended GPD family. This will be felt for a long time. The impact that he has had in our community can’t be overstated. Thank you to the agencies assisting in this investigation.”

Vaughan joined the Greensboro police chief at Saturday night’s press conference.

Gov. Roy Cooper posted on X that he had spoken with Thompson Saturday night to offer “all available state resources to catch those who killed a Greensboro police officer.”

“Our prayers are with the Greensboro police and family and loved ones. Every effort must be made to apprehend those responsible and bring justice in this tragic situation.”

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is from Greensboro, wrote on X: “Yolanda and I offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of this fallen officer, and the entire Greensboro Police Department. We honor this brave officer for making the ultimate sacrifice in protecting our city. I ask all of North Carolina to join us in lifting the officers’ loved ones and the Greensboro PD up in prayer. Let us recommit to supporting law enforcement in this heartbreaking moment.”

Attorney General Josh Stein said on X: “My heart goes out to the family and colleagues of the Greensboro police officer who was murdered this afternoon. Please join me in praying for them and for the immediate capture of the killers. We owe so much to law enforcement who put their lives on the line to keep us safe.”

Jessica Banov contributed to this report.

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