I’ve got an appointment to see my sheriff later today, the same fellow who once described gun control as “getting your barrel back on the target quick”. Another statement made in the wake of an assault on a woman, “our system of justice is not making it…carry a concealed weapon; that’ll fix it.” The sheriff is not anxious to talk with me. In fact yesterday he phoned and called the whole thing off. He wanted to know, in effect, who in the hell I thought I was, wanting facts about the deaths, needless from my perspective, of two young black men. As far as he was concerned, they were doing a bad thing (an attempted break-in) and in South Carolina the deputized population can kill dudes for doing bad things whether anyone is at risk or not and whether a single toothpick has been lifted from one’s crib. The sheriff’s reticence could also have had something to do with the fact that I emailed some tough questions to him in advance. He finally consented to reconsider when I promised to come alone and if he could have an inspector sit in with him.
I had set up the meeting with the sheriff during an NAACP ‘stop the violence’ gathering, April 26 at a local black Methodist church. The meeting was in the wake of a recent spate of shootings of so-called ‘bad’ guys (3 dead, 1 head wound, all black) by citizen vigilantes fully protected by the cocoon of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and NRA state laws, alternately called ‘Stand Your Ground’ and/or the ‘Castle Doctrine’. I sat in the front pew about 5’ from the speaker’s podium so I could be recognized when Q & A time rolled around.
When it was his turn to speak, the sheriff looked out over the church crowd and said “I come here in the name of God!” He then offered his condolences to the victims of the uncharged shooter and insisted that the law ‘tied his hands’ which, while pretty accurate, wasn’t in the least disagreeable to him as he has long lobbied for an armed citizenry. He added, somewhat hypocritically, that he didn’t believe there was a piece of property “I own or others ever that’s worth a life.” He blamed the solicitor for refusing to let him charge the shooter.
At the end of the speech, attendees were allowed to ask questions. I immediately raised my hand. The politically ambitious black County Councilman/attorney was in charge of calling on those who had questions. After 20 minutes it became obvious that I was being intentionally ignored. That’s when I had to set up the separate sheriff’s meeting.
Meanwhile, I’ve got a lot more information to add to the pieces I’ve already written, having met and talked and emailed at length with the parents of the victims and, post-NAACP, having met with the non-charging solicitor. The solicitor had agreed to meet on short notice. I managed to arrive a few minutes early and waited outside the office with the mother and father of one of the young men and the father of the other victim, along with his girlfriend. We were invited into a conference room where we sat at a long table. For the first time we were all going to hear about the real specifics of the incident.
The first thing we learned was that the two young men had not been in the apartment at all and unlike the girlfriend of the shooter’s 9-1-1 call, they were only seen outside the apartment apparently preparing to break in, but not as described in the call as “coming out of the apartment.” The solicitor also admitted that neither man had one item belonging to the shooter. Not one. As for the actual shooting, a blackboard was used with symbols depicting outdoor A/C units. Upon the shooter approaching the men with gun in hand, they split up. One of them hid behind one of the units, the other behind another unit. For some reason, this was key for the solicitor insisting the actions of the two represented a deadly threat to the shooter. I asked if one unit was big enough to provide cover for both young men and he said ‘no’.
I also asked if this shooter was so terrified why did he continue to bear down on the men and shoot them from a distance of an estimated 4 – 5 feet. He really had no answer for that one, but pointed out that one of the perpetrators had a gun in his pocket as indeed he did. But it never left his pocket. It was a snub nose .38. The shooter had a .38 Taurus with a long barrel. Ironically, the long barreled .38 is a favorite of many police agencies.
The shooter’s holster was also found at the scene. Who rides around with a holstered gun? It was also pointed out that the two victims were wearing gloves and that one had on a ski mask. All true, but how did that piece of fashion news represent a deadly threat? Intent, yes, but deadly intent? And the ski mask had been rolled up onto the top of the head so it’s quite doubtful it could even be perceived as a ski mask by the shooter. The topic switched to the wounds. One man was shot in the left side of his head. I asked “are you telling me that the shooter felt threatened by somebody who had his head turned away from him?” The other victim was shot through the ski mask higher up on the head execution style, but still not straight on. I then finger-pantomimed pointing a gun to show that there could not have possibly been a confrontation from the position of the bullets.
In review, the shooter was not charged since he feared for his life because the men wore gloves, one had a rolled-up ski mask on his head, they were seen at the window, but not climbing through the window, there was a gun in the pocket of one of the victims, never drawn, never fired, and they split up to hide behind separate A/C units.
How threatened can you feel if you keep walking toward these two men and you’re armed with a long-barrel .38 and they’re running away terrified? The solicitor did admit that the law he had to follow was overly broad, perhaps even more so than Florida’s. He was indeed within his rights not to charge under Section 16-11-440 that allows deadly force even if somebody is in the process of unlawfully or forcefully entering a dwelling or residence. Clearly you need not even be inside the residence. Defending your home from the inside can make perfect sense if an intruder invades your space, but you can, as is abundantly clear in this case, kill even if you’re outside your premises – under no threat. And what is really interesting is that the wording through and through is “Deadly Force”.
My visit with the sheriff, a possible eyewitness and some personal background on these latest victims of ALEC and the NRA is next.
Note: This is the third in a series of features on the deaths of two young men shot in cold blood when caught attempting to break into an apartment.