Video shows deputies fired dozens of shots at armed 81-year-old man in South Carolina

Feb 13, 2024, 10:44 AM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Body camera recordings presented by a sheriff’s office in South Carolina show deputies firing dozens of shots with automatic weapons at an 81-year-old man who they said pointed a pistol at them after calling 911.

A sheriff’s spokesman said in the video briefing that “it is unclear at this time” if Walter Lester McDonald III ever fired the pistol, found near his body in the backyard of his suburban home in Greenville. The presentation, including edited recordings of the 911 call and video from several body cameras, was posted this week by the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office on YouTube.

Sheriff Hobart Lewis said an internal investigation found the deputies didn’t violate sheriff’s office policies and have returned to work. A state investigation continues so prosecutors can determine whether they think the Dec. 27 shooting was justified or merits criminal charges.

McDonald summoned the deputies to his home, telling the 911 dispatcher “My wife would like to speak with you guys. She would like to talk about an issue.”

Then he handed the phone to his wife, who said she felt uncomfortable after accusing him of having an affair. “I confronted him, and he got kind of aggressive,” she said in the recording. Asked if he had any guns, she said “we have a house full of weapons.”

Deputies responding to the home had a disjointed conversation with his wife, who then led them to the living room, where McDonald sat on a couch. A deputy saw he was holding a gun and repeatedly ordered him to put it down, telling a colleague that McDonald was pointing it at the ceiling.

“They’re not going to shoot you,” his wife chimed in.

“Shut up. You’re interfering,” McDonald responded. At no point in the video selections presented by the sheriff’s office did McDonald threaten himself or others. He repeatedly says “Officer ..” as the deputy repeatedly orders him to put down the pistol.

The next clip shows deputies ushering McDonald’s reluctant wife away and taking up positions outside the home, on a wide suburban street. Ten minutes later, the video showed McDonald opening the front door. A deputy again demanded he drop the gun, but McDonald went back inside.

Deputies who took up positions in the neighbors’ yards then spotted McDonald in his backyard, mostly obscured behind the partly open gate of a tall wooden fence. Narrating the presentation, spokesman Ryan Flood said McDonald pointed his weapon at an officer, although this detail seemed impossible to determine in the video.

“Put it down, bud,” one officer said as they negotiated briefly with McDonald. The first shots were fired less than 15 seconds later and several officers were recorded firing bursts of gunfire over the next 25 seconds, including one deputy who ran toward McDonald and fired repeatedly through the fence at close range.

Deputies called for medics as they handcuffed McDonald, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The presentation included an image of a 1911 .45 caliber handgun in the grass near his body. Flood said it still hasn’t been determined whether the pistol had been fired.

“Although it is unclear at this time in the investigation whether McDonald shot, deputies fired at McDonald due to the immediate threat to their lives,” Flood said.

The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office has a policy to release selected body camera recordings, 911 calls, police radio traffic or other evidence 45 days after a shooting involving deputies. It is one of the only agencies in the state to release that kind of information. Most wait until an investigation is complete and prosecutors have decided whether the shooting was justified.

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Video shows deputies fired dozens of shots at armed 81-year-old man in South Carolina