A prosecutor in South Carolina decided on June 14, 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 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.
“He was still alive, but y’all killed him because he had a stick in his hand,” Ivan Charley said. “It’s a stick. … It’s still wood, and it’s not made of bullets.”
A second deputy, later identified by authorities as Zachary Hentz, arrived and immediately approached with his gun up and pointed toward the house, Charley said.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott defended the deputies’ actions in a Sunday news conference, noting that the deputies were protecting themselves in a dangerous situation. Multiple people had said Moorer Charley had injured them and said Moorer Charley was inside with a knife, Lott said.
The sheriff’s office released a short clip of body camera video where Anderson repeatedly yells at Moorer Charley to “Drop the weapon!” as Moorer Charley walks toward the deputy, who is slowly backpedaling. The sheriff’s department has declined to release the entire video to the public, but the sheriff said he would play it for the prosecutor, the department’s citizen advisory board and for the family. Attorneys for Moorer Charley’s relatives said they were scheduled to view the full body camera footage on June 13.
Richland County Coroner Naida Rutherford said deputies tried to use a stun gun but it did not stick to Moorer Charley’s skin. Lott said that immediately after that, Moorer Charley charged Hentz, who shot him four times.
“It was a very close encounter,” Lott said, saying Hentz kept shooting until Moorer Charley dropped to the ground, and that the last shot was from less than 3 feet (1 meter) away. He said deputies tried to resuscitate Moorer Charley until an ambulance arrived.
An incident report filed by an officer who arrived after the shooting says that a person who called 911 said Moorer Charley was assaulting her mother and that he had a knife.
Ivan Charley also disputed that account, saying no knife was ever involved. He said his brother had become agitated and fought with family members inside their mother’s house but had already calmed down by the time the deputies arrived.
But when he saw the deputies, Moorer Charley picked up the wooden stake and slowly walked out of the house into the yard, Ivan Charley said.
Ivan Charley spoke Monday from the yard of his mother’s home, where it had all taken place.
Moorer Charley led a life complicated by mental illness that contributed to the frequent fights he had with his family, his younger brother said.
“We loved to fight each other but we loved each other. That’s all I know,” Ivan Charley said.
The police were often called, said Ivan Charley. But in prior instances, officers never exited the car with their guns drawn, instead talking to Moorer Charley “with common sense” and sometimes giving him rides elsewhere.
“They calmed him down,” Ivan Charley said.
Ivan Charley said the family had previously tried to get Moorer Charley mental health care through the state but had trouble getting him help.
Training records from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy show Anderson joined the Richland County Sheriff’s Office in October 2020 and Hentz in March 2021.
Those records show Anderson completed mandatory mental illness and domestic violence trainings last year. Hentz completed a domestic violence training in December and had a mental illness training in progress as of February.
A spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office, which will decide whether criminal charges are warranted, said Monday the matter was still under investigation.