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S.C. store owner who killed teen previously shot at people he suspected of shoplifting, authorities say

Rick Chow’s confrontations with customers in 2015 and 2018 “did not meet the requirements under South Carolina law to support criminal charges,” the Richland County Sheriff’s Department said.
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A South Carolina convenience store owner who fatally shot a 14-year-old in the back after falsely accusing him of stealing was involved in at least two prior altercations in which he confronted people he suspected of shoplifting and then opened fire, authorities said. 

As the owner, Rick Chow, remained in jail awaiting a bond hearing in the death of Cyrus Carmack-Belton, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department on Wednesday revealed it had received numerous calls about trouble at the Xpress Mart Shell gas station. In one incident in 2015, Chow fired six times at a car after he tried to stop someone he suspected of shoplifting, it said. Three years later, he shot a man in the leg, department spokesperson Veronica Hill said.

Chow’s conduct in both cases “did not meet the requirements under South Carolina law to support criminal charges,” she said, adding authorities made that determination because he wasn’t the instigator in either incident.

Owner opens fire over accusations of stolen beer and peanuts

An incident report stated that in May 2015, Chow allegedly tried to stop a woman from stealing two cases of beer and a package of boiled peanuts.

Cyrus Carmack-Belton.
Store owner Rick Chow fatally shot Cyrus Carmack-Belton, 14, in the back. via Rep. Todd Rutherford

Chow confronted the woman in the parking lot. The woman, who was not identified in the report, told him that she purchased the items and he said she had not. 

The woman and Chow “began to struggle over the items" and she "began to yell for help” from a man seated inside her vehicle, the report stated. The woman allegedly threatened to shoot Chow, Hill said.

Chow grabbed the beer and the woman’s purse, which contained the peanuts, according to the report. The scuffle left Chow with two scratches and a broken glasses, the report said. 

As the man and the woman attempted to drive away, Chow pulled out a handgun and fired about six shots at the vehicle, according to the report. No one was injured, Hill said. 

Deputies responded but could not find the man and the woman, the report said.

A stolen can of Easy-Off, then chaos

Three years later, Chow said he watched a man take a can of Easy-Off cleaner from a shelf, conceal it under his clothes and then leave the store without paying, an incident report stated. Chow followed the man, Alexis Aguilera, 23, out of the store and demanded the item back, it said. Aguilera told him to call the police. 

Chow said he was “unsure of what happened next” but was struck in the face and the can of Easy-Off fell to the ground, according to the report. Chow then pulled out his firearm and fired two shots at Aguilera as he fled, the report stated. 

Aguilera returned to the scene as a deputy arrived, according to the report. He was taken to the hospital and treated for a gunshot wound before being taken into custody in connection with the incident.

Aguilera pleaded guilty to a shoplifting charge, court records show, and was sentenced to 30 days or a $300 fine. Publicly listed numbers were not available for Aguilera. Chow’s attorney declined to discuss the earlier incidents.

There were hundreds of calls to the store in the years before teen was fatally shot

The shootings were just two examples of prior incidents at the store. During the past five years, the sheriff’s department has received hundreds of calls from the store ranging from assaults, larceny and shoplifting to motor vehicle theft, vandalism, robbery and burglary, according to Hill.

On Sunday, Chow, 58, fatally shot Cyrus after accusing the 14-year-old of stealing bottles of water. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the teen “did not shoplift anything.” 

“We have no evidence that he stole anything whatsoever,” he said at a news briefing. 

Cyrus entered the convenience store around 8 p.m. Sunday. Lott said the teen took four bottles of water from a cooler and then put them back. Hill, the department spokesperson, said Wednesday that there is video showing the teen either setting down the water bottles or putting them back. 

At some point, the teen got into an argument with Chow and Chow’s son. Lott didn’t detail what led to the dispute but said that Cyrus eventually left the store and took off running.

Chow, armed with a pistol, and his son chased the 14-year-old toward a nearby apartment complex, Lott said, adding that the teen fell at one point but got back up.

Chow’s son said Cyrus had a gun, which is when the owner shot the teen in the back as he was running away, according to Lott. Authorities later recovered a gun next to his body, but the sheriff said there was no evidence the teen ever pointed the weapon at Chow or his son.

Cyrus was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

An investigation determined the shooting was “not a bias motivated incident,” according to a report from the sheriff’s department. Hill said authorities reached that conclusion because investigators have no evidence that suggests racial bias was a factor. Cyrus was Black. Chow is Asian.

The shooting has angered some people in the community.

“It’s senseless,” Lott said. “It doesn’t make sense. You have a family that’s grieving. We have a community that’s grieving over a 14-year-old who was shot.”

He said that even if Cyrus took something from the store, it didn’t warrant a shooting.

“Regardless, even if he had shoplifted four bottles of water, which is what he initially took out the cooler and then he put them back, even if he had done that, that’s not — that’s not something you shoot anybody over, much less a 14-year-old,” Lott said.

Democratic state Rep. Todd Rutherford, the attorney for the teen’s family, said in an Instagram post that what happened “wasn’t an accident. It’s something that the Black community has experienced for generations: being racially profiled, then shot down in the street like a dog.” 

“Words can’t describe the pain I feel having known this family for decades,” he said. 

Rutherford could not be reached for comment. 

Some people on social media have called for a boycott of the store and on Monday, a crowd gathered outside to protest. The report stated that several people broke into the store and took items off the shelves. 

Chow is being held at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on a murder charge. His son has not been charged. The sheriff’s department said it has consulted with the Fifth Circuit Solicitor's Office seeking its opinion on whether the son should be charged. The solicitor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.