The Sheriff's Report: How Cheney Shot His Pal

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EVAN VUCCI / AP

Vice President Cheney with a Secret Service agent at the White House Wednesday

On Monday, the day before Harry Whittington suffered a minor heart attack from Dick Cheney’s birdshot, his big concern was not his own health but the image of Texas hunting left by the incident. Speaking in a raspy voice while sitting up in a chair at a Corpus Christi hospital, the 78-year-old lawyer told sheriff’s deputies from Kenedy County that no one had been drinking while hunting on the Armstrong Ranch last Saturday. They had been following all the rules—both Cheney and Whittington were dressed in blaze-orange vests and hats—and it was all just an accident that Cheney, following a single quail flying low into the sunset, hit him instead. Case closed. The county sheriff, Ramon Salinas, apparently agreed. No charges will be filed, Salinas said Thursday.

Salinas, who released the fuller accounting of the incident after repeated Freedom of Information requests from the media, confirmed that the Vice President was first interviewed by his chief deputy at 8 a.m. Sunday morning—14 hours after the incident—at the ranch 21 miles south of Sarita, the county seat. Since Monday, the deputy, Gilberto San Miguel Jr., has also gotten statements from Cheney’s hunting partner Pamela Willeford, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Lichtenstein, ranch owner Katharine Armstrong and her sister Sarita Armstrong Hixon, as well as two outriders helping with the hunt—Jerry and Oscar Medellin. Bo Hubert, the hunt guide, is to give his version of events to deputies on Friday. None of their affidavits will be released by the sheriff’s department, however.

On Sunday morning, the deputy was greeted at the ranch’s main gate by the Secret Service and Border Patrol, who searched him and then accompanied him a mile down the road to the main house. The Vice President, says San Miguel, shook his hand and promised to cooperate as they sat down to talk. Cheney, he says in the report, confirmed that he was part of a three-car hunting party consisting of himself, Harry Whittington, Ambassador Willeford, the two Armstrong women, and a three-man hunt team.

It’s clear from the reports that Cheney and Willeford had walked ahead to a second covey of quail, leaving Whittington behind to collect two quail he had just hit. "Mr. Cheney told me the sun was setting to the west when the dogs had located a covey. Around the same time, Oscar Medellin notified the hunters he had also located a covey. After the group shot at the first covey, he and Pamela Willeford proceeded to the second covey because Harry Whittington had walked approximately 100 yards from the first location," the report says. It’s unclear from the report, but it seems as if Medellin and guide Bo Hubert were with the Vice President. "There was a single bird that flew behind him and he followed the bird by line of sight in a counter-clockwise direction, not realizing Harry Whittington had walked up from behind and had positioned himself approximately 30 yards to the west of him," according to San Miguel’s report. Cheney told the deputy that Whittington was standing on lower ground and as a result was hit in the face and upper body. "Katharine Armstrong told me pretty much the same story Mr. Cheney told me," he wrote.

The deputy took down the serial number of Cheney’s Perazzi Brescia, an over-and-under, double-barrel 28-gauge shotgun, and asked no more questions of the vice president. There were no questions about drinking at all on Sunday. Outside the main house, he met up with Gerardo Medellin, who identified the hunt party members for him.

On Monday morning, San Miguel and sheriff's officer Lt. Juan J. Guzman went to Spohn Memorial Hospital in Corpus to speak to Whittington, whom they found sitting up in a chair. He requested the conversation not be recorded because of his raspy voice, but promised a written affidavit after he was released from the hospital. "Mr. Whittington did speak of the incident and explained foremost there was no alcohol during the hunt and everyone was wearing the proper hunting attire of blaze orange," writes San Miguel. "While looking for the downed birds, he [Whittington] had returned back at one point to the hunting vehicles.." Katharine Armstrong, who was sitting with her sister Sarita, told him to go for the second covey. "Mr. Whittington again reiterated that this incident was just an accident. He was concerned this incident would bring a bad imagine [sic] to hunting in Texas." After that, the interview got cut off because a nurse was concerned for his health.

It wasn’t until Tuesday—two days after the shooting—that the deputy went back to the scene of the shooting in Comal pasture, about 4 miles west of US Highway 77, which runs by the Armstrong ranch. That day, he asked for affidavits from the Armstrong women, as well as from Willeford and the guide.

Sheriff Salinas’s report says he first got a call Saturday around 5:30 p.m. from Capt. Charles Kirk about a possible hunting accident on the Armstrong ranch. He told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times newspaper he was barbecuing with his family when he was reached. Then, about 10 minutes later, a Secret Service agent called the sheriff at home to officially notify them of the accident and the involvement of Cheney. Kirk, meanwhile, had been rebuffed at the Armstrong gate by a Border Patrol agent who knew nothing about the accident. Salinas says in his report he decided not to go immediately to the ranch after talking to Constable Ramiro Medellin Jr., the former county sheriff. It’s not clear if he was related to the Medellins on the hunt, but the constable told Salinas that he had talked to the hunting party and that it was "definitely" an accident. Salinas spoke himself with some of the witnesses—he says, without identifying them—and put off interviews until Sunday.

Whittington, who is 78, still hasn’t given a full accounting of the accident. Shortly after talking to sheriff’s deputies, he was back in intensive care. He developed an abnormal heart rhythm not considered life-threatening, but requiring cardiac catherization to diagnose it. Hospital officials said Thursday that he could be released in a few days but was staying in intensive care to give him some privacy.