A bodycam caught a deputy shooting a man in his South Carolina home. It contradicts the initial police narrative

Posted at 5:07 PM, Jul 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-31 10:04:16-04

Police body camera footage shows a South Carolina deputy shooting a man through a window in the man’s home, and the video doesn’t jibe with the initial account from authorities.

The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office acknowledged as much Tuesday, more than six weeks after the shooting.

The man — identified by his lawyer as Dick Tench, a 62-year-old retiree — is inside his Simpsonville home when a deputy opens fire, the footage shows. Tench, who survived two gunshot wounds, appears unaware it was a policeman who shot him, judging from his exchange with the deputy following the incident.

In a deleted June 14 statement posted to Facebook, the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office said the homeowner “pulled the door open and pointed a handgun directly at the deputy,” prompting the deputy to open fire, according to CNN affiliate WYFF.

Sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Ryan Flood repeated the narrative during an interview with CNN affiliate WHNS, saying, “The deputy was soon greeted by the homeowner who immediately jerked open the door, presented a handgun and pointed it directly at the deputy.”

Asked if the deputy properly identified himself or if the man fired any shots from inside his home, Flood told the station he didn’t know.

“I do know that when the deputy knocked or rang the doorbell — made contact at the door — the gentleman came to the door, jerked it open immediately, presented and pointed a gun directly at the deputy, at which time the deputy returned with fire,” he said.

Change of course

In its Tuesday statement, however, the sheriff’s office said it “erred” in issuing the early report, and an internal investigation showed Tench had not opened the door and pointed his weapon at the deputy.

“To be clear, at no time during the internal investigation did the deputy make such a statement,” the sheriff’s office said. “It was miscommunicated that the door was opened.”

A day earlier, in a video posted to Facebook and YouTube, the sheriff’s office provided the body camera footage and more details on the case. In the video, Flood and a captain with the department maintain the deputy felt he was in danger when he opened fire.

“When deputies are put in a position that requires them to use physical force to effect an arrest or defend themselves against a threat, the actions can be graphic and difficult to watch,” Flood said.

The sheriff’s office declined to comment beyond its statements, saying only that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating the shooting.

The deputy has not been identified. He is on paid administrative leave, WYFF has reported.

Tench’s lawyer, Beattie Ashmore, said any decisions on how to handle the case are on hold until the investigation is complete. He’d like to resolve the matter “in good faith” first, he said.

It began with a 911 call

On June 13 at 11:49 p.m., a 911 dispatcher received a call about a panic alarm coming from inside the Simpsonville home. In audio shared on the sheriff’s office’s Facebook page, a woman is heard telling the dispatcher that the alarm company tried to make contact with the homeowner, to no avail.

Without elaborating, Capt. Tim Brown of the office of professional standards said that the investigation has confirmed that someone inside the home issued a panic alarm from a medical assistance app on her or his cellphone. There was no emergency, though, Brown said.

The deputy arrived after midnight and rang the doorbell, the captain said.

“As the deputy proceeded to walk off the front porch to begin a perimeter check of the home, he noticed movement from inside and returned to the front door to further investigate,” Brown said on the Monday video statement.

“As the deputy returned to the front door, he noticed a man through the window on the left side of the door. The man who was later identified as the homeowner was seen on the deputy’s body-worn camera and observed by the deputy holding a gun,” he said.

The deputy told his superiors that when he beamed his flashlight into the window, he saw the man point a gun at him, Brown said.

Because the department’s body cameras have a 30-second delay when recording audio, it’s not clear whether the deputy identified himself as law enforcement, or if he did, whether Tench heard it from inside the home.

“In an effort to defend himself against a perceived threat,” Brown said, “the deputy fired his issued weapon as he retreated off the porch and subsequently struck the individual multiple times.”

‘Who are you?’

In the video, which is edited to include police commentary and graphics, Tench’s silhouette can be seen in the window. It’s unclear if he is pointing a weapon.

At no point in the video provided by police does Tench open his front door.

The deputy approaches the door, lifts his weapon and the glass shatters. The officer moves away from the closed front door, running into a bush as he retreats into the front yard. The audio begins shortly thereafter.

“Sheriff’s office! Drop the gun now! Let me see your hands! Let me see your hands!” the deputy shouts.

Dogs bark. Tench yells in pain, telling the officer he’s been shot. The deputy tells him twice to throw the gun out the door.

“Call the cops! I’ve been shot twice!” Tench says.

“Yeah! Throw the gun out the door! Let me see your hands!”

“Who are you?”

“Yeah! You pointed a gun at me!”

“Who are you?”

“The sheriff’s office.”

“What are you here for?”

“Because we got an alarm call.”

“Oh my God! Call the cops please!”

“I am the cops.”

“Call the ambulance please!”

Handgun recovered at scene

The deputy approaches the door. Tench is just a few feet inside, his pants bloody. A gun — which police later said was a .38-caliber handgun — sits not far away, at the bottom of a flight of stairs.

Tench tells the deputy he’s been shot in the groin and chest and demands to know, “The f*** you doing, man?”

“You pointed a gun at me, man,” the deputy replies, before donning gloves and beginning first aid about 15 seconds later.

The deputy calls an ambulance and reiterates that 911 received an alarm call from the house. A woman comes downstairs crying, “Oh my God! Oh my God!”

“I saw lights and I heard a doorbell ring and I got my gun. I’m a concealed weapons guy,” Tench says.

Tench tells the officer he’s going to die and the deputy responds, “No you’re not. You’re not going to die.”

Tench says no one in the house has a medical alarm. He further says he was sleeping with his Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine. A CPAP is used to treat sleep apnea.

“You shot me right here, dude. You motherf****r, why did you do that?” Tench asks as the deputy tries to calm him and continue first aid.

“Because you pointed a gun at me, man,” the officer replies.

“You came to my house at 12 o’clock at night. I’m sleeping,” Tench says. “I’ve got to protect my house. Oh my God, get the ambulance here. I’m going to die.”

The officer ends the argument, saying, “We’re not going to talk about this right now. We’re going to focus on keeping you alive.”

Tench has been released from the hospital and is recovering from his wounds, police say. Ashmore, his attorney, says one bullet was removed from his aorta after 30 days, while another bullet that lodged in his hip will have to remain there.

He’s been using a walker to get around, the attorney said, but he’s improving every day.