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South Carolina Cop Shoots Homeowner Who Called for Help

A deputy sheriff in Charleston County, South Carolina, shot a homeowner who'd armed himself after calling 911 to report a home invasion.
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A black South Carolina man was in serious condition Friday after being shot by a white deputy sheriff responding to his report of someone breaking into his house.

Authorities moved quickly to try to calm tensions over the episode, which occurred in the same county as the April 4 police shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, and amid a furious national debate over police use of force in minority communities.

"We’re as sorry as we can be," Charleston County Sheriff James Alton Cannon Jr. said in a Friday meeting with community leaders.

"What makes this even more of a tragedy for us is that someone in effect called us for help and we ended up being a part of him getting injured seriously," Cannon said.

The victim, Bryan Heyward, called 911 around 11 a.m. Thursday to report that armed men were trying to enter his mother's home in the rural town of Hollywood, authorities said. "It's an emergency and they have guns," Heyward said, according to recordings released by authorities.

Two deputies arrived and were told that shots had been fired and two black suspects had been seen fleeing the back yard, the sheriff's office said. The deputies went around back and noticed damage to a front window and a back door, Cannon said.

Then Heyward, 26, appeared in the back doorway, holding a .40-caliber handgun that he'd been using to protect himself, Cannon said. One deputy, Keith Tyner, told him to drop it.

Heyward did not immediately do so. The deputy fired twice, hitting Heyward in the neck with a single round, according to the sheriff's office.

It was not clear how much time elapsed between the warning and the shot.

Heyward was taken to the Medical University of South Carolina, where authorities said he remained in the intensive care unit.

Relatives and family lawyers said Friday that Heyward was unable to speak and could not move his lower body.

On the way to the hospital, Heyward spoke to an investigator who was wearing a microphone. A 20-minute recording of the conversation was played at Friday's meeting between police and community leaders.

"The officer did it, but it was an accident," Heyward told the investigator, according to the recording, adding, "I should have put the gun down, but I didn't."

Heyward also told police he had exchanged gunfire with two suspects who fled the home on bicycles, authorities said.

Representatives of Heyward's family said that the deputies at the scene were also wearing microphones, and found it curious that recordings from those devices have not been shared with the public.

"Just as that tape was released today so quickly to try to justify the shooting, why can’t those other audio tapes be released?" said the Rev. Charles White Jr., a field director of the National Action Network and a cousin of Heyward's.

Those recordings could reveal how long Tyner waited before shooting Heyward, the family representatives said.

"We have no issue with officers protecting themselves and others when they have their lives endangered," lawyer Chris Stewart said. "But to not take the time to make sure you're not shooting the person that called you is a concern."

The family representatives also stressed that Heyward was clearly frightened when he called 911, and might not have known who was shouting at him when he stood in the back door.

"I challenge each of you to ask yourself in a situation as traumatic as that, what would you do?" lawyer Justin Bamberg told reporters. "Can you say definitively that your first thought would be to drop the firearm?"

Cannon said he did not fault Heyward for arming himself. "In my opinion he was doing what he had a right to do in protecting himself from these individual who were apparently attempting to get into the home," the sheriff said.

"We certainly think this is a remarkable young man and our prayers are with him and his family that he will overcome this serious injury," Cannon said.

But Cannon did not offer an opinion on whether Tyner broke any rules or laws. That judgment, he said, will be made by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, which investigates police shootings.

"An officer was confronted with a situation where he's dealing with someone who is armed and is in a position of having to make a split-second decision as to what the threat is at at that point in time," Cannon said.

Hours after the shooting, police arrested one of the suspects, a 22-year-old man named Thomas Zachary Brown. He is charged with burglary and attempted murder.

— with Denise Royal