COLUMBIA, SC — A prosecutor in South Carolina decided Tuesday not to charge two police officers in the fatal shooting of a Black man who lunged at them with a broken piece of wood from a chair after family members warned them the victim was mentally ill.
The Richland County deputies were justified to shoot Irvin Moorer Charley because he was a danger to the officers and family members who called police to their home, initially telling them Charley was armed with a knife, Solicitor Byron Gipson said in a statement.
Gipson called the shooting “reasonably necessary” based on Charley’s “unfortunate response” to lunge at the officers with the stick, which they thought was a sharpened stake.
“The use of force was applied in good faith based upon the perceptions of a reasonably trained officer and the objectively reasonable facts the officer had at the time of the incident,” Gipson said.
The deputies are white. Gipson, the elected prosecutor for Richland County, is Black.
Lawyers for Charley’s family said in a text message Tuesday that the family would hold a news conference later to respond to Gipson’s decision.
The family was unhappy because the Richland County Sheriff’s Department investigated the shooting by its own deputies. Sheriff Leon Lott said his investigators had the expertise and temperament to fairly investigate their fellow officers and Gipson would review the findings.
Gipson said he had two professors who are police force experts from the University of South Carolina review the evidence too, but he didn’t include any of their comments or findings in his statement.
Deputies were called to the home outside Columbia on March 19 by someone who said Charley was attacking his mother. Body camera video showed Charley’s brother telling the first officer to arrive that Charley was mentally ill and had a knife, which he quickly corrected to scissors while saying, “don’t shoot or nothing. He don’t got no gun.”
Body camera footage showed the first deputy, John Anderson, pointing his gun at Charley after he suddenly came out of a house with a piece of wood with what appeared to have a pointed end. He told the deputy “y’all can shoot me.” A second deputy, Zachary Hentz, arrived about the same time and shot Charley with a Taser, but he had no reaction.
Charley then charged at Hentz, who fired his gun seven times while backpedaling, stumbling on his back about the same time Charley fell bleeding to the ground.
The sheriff’s department initially only released a 15-second clip with Charley walking at the deputy, saying the shooting itself was “just not something everyone needs to see.” They then released the dashboard camera video that showed the shooting from a distance, but when the family held a news conference suggesting deputies were hiding evidence, the sheriff’s department released the full 13 minutes of body camera footage.
The footage primarily showed the deputies doing CPR on a bloody Charley as his head wobbled uncontrollably back and forth with each chest compression.
The day after the shooting, the sheriff said he thought his deputies did the right thing.
“We can’t expect these deputies to go out here and be killed,” Lott said. “They have to protect themselves. And that’s what this deputy did yesterday. He protected himself.”
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.