A man arrested following Saturday's South Carolina mall shooting in which nine people were wounded had opened fire in self-defense in a confrontation with other shooters, his lawyer said Sunday.
The man, identified as 22-year-old Jewayne Price, has been released under house arrest and ordered to wear an ankle monitor after a judge set a $25,000 surety bond.
Police booked Price on suspicion of unlawful possession of a pistol after questioning him, the Columbia Police Department said. While police have not formally alleged he was a shooter Saturday, he was barred by Bond Court at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center Sunday from contacting victims of the attack, Columbia police said on Twitter.
Price was one of three detained as "people of interest" for questioning, Columbia Police Chief W. H. “Skip” Holbrook said Saturday. The two others weren't involved and were released, police said in a statement released overnight.
Investigators believe a fight between people who knew one another led to the gunfire, and that "at least three suspects displayed firearms inside the mall," according to the statement.
The chief said Saturday that preliminary information leads detectives to believe at least two people opened fire. The number of shooters, however, was yet to be officially determined.
According to coverage from NBC affiliate WIS, counsel for the defense J. Todd Rutherford said outside the detention center in Columbia on Sunday that his client opened fire in self-defense after two people connected to Facebook threats against him started shooting first.
"It was unprovoked by him," Rutherford said, according to the station. "He called the police, turned himself in, turned over the firearm that was used in this, and gave a statement to the Columbia Police Department. That is why he got a $25,000 bond.”
The defendant has cooperated with police, he said. The weapon in question is legally registered to Price, but the attorney said he did not have a concealed weapon permit for carrying it in his clothing in public.
Rutherford is also a state representative from Columbia, a Democrat who is one of multiple sponsors of a bill that could reduce penalties for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit from a minimum fine of $1,000, along with a maximum sentence of a year behind bars, to a $200 fine on first offense.
Even as President Joe Biden last week announced tougher gun regulations in the wake of multiple mass shootings, a movement to make it easier for Americans to carry weapons openly or concealed has swept states with Republicans in key positions of power.
Just like other states, South Carolina has seen a rash of multiple-victim shootings, sometimes with multiple shooters, in recent years.
On Sunday, the Richland County Sheriff's Department, which polices the county that includes Columbia, said Price had been charged in the 2018 with "accessory before the fact" in connection with the murder that year of 17-year-old Amon Rice.
The disposition of that case was not revealed by the department
Older remarks by Sheriff Leon Lott suggested that Price, presumed innocent, was part of a “catch and release” system of justice in a state otherwise notorious for its tough-on-crime politics.
The remarks were included in the department’s Sunday statement on Price.
At a 2018 press conference announcing the arrest of 21 of 22 suspects in the church-adjacent shootout between rival groups of high schoolers that ended with Rice dead and another victim injured, Lott described the prosecution as a landmark.
“This is the largest case that we’ve ever done in Richmond County that’s involved a shooting where we were able to identify everybody that was involved in it,” the sheriff said at the time.
He blamed “teenage drama” for the violence that authorities said started with an altercation on a local high school campus and ended with both sides agreeing to meet outside a church for a confrontation.
In the aftermath, investigators counted seven guns and 58 rounds fired at the scene, Lott said in 2018. “This time it wasn’t a fistfight. It was a gunfight,” he said.
While investigators at the time were unable to determine who fatally shot Rice, the sheriff alleged that many of the defendants had opened fire and thus should be held accountable for the teen’s death. At the press conference, he did not name Price as one of them.
Rutherford, did not immediately respond to a request for his response to the gun allegation or the 2018 charge of accessory before the fact.
The shooting Saturday at Columbiana Centre injured 14 people — nine with gunshots and five who were hurt while fleeing.
Before he revised the numbers, Holbrook initially said 10 people were struck by gunfire, two of whom were critically injured, and that two others were injured while fleeing.
In addition to the nine people with gunshot wounds, other people suffered broken bones, lacerations and a head injury that was suffered while fleeing, police said Saturday night.
The victims are ages 15 to 73.
All of the injured had been treated and released except a 73-year-old woman, who remained hospitalized, Columbia police said Saturday night.
South Carolina has had a number of mass shootings over the weekend. Early Sunday, at least nine people were injured in a shooting at a club in Hampton County.
The State Law Enforcement Division, or SLED, said in an email that no deaths were reported in the Easter morning shooting in Hampton County. No information was immediately available about the severity of the injuries.
SLED said it was asked to investigate by the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office.
In January the gun violence-prevention group Moms Demand Action said rising firearms-enabled crime across the nation correlated to skyrocketing gun sales during the pandemic as well as to the relaxation of regulations, supported by the gun industry, in statehouses like South Carolina’s.
The nonprofit, which says the state has the seventh-highest rate of gun homicide in the country, said in its January statement, “Communities across South Carolina are suffering from the impacts of gun violence.”
The state last year enacted a law that allows gun owners with a concealed weapon permit to also “open carry” their firearm in public. Second Amendment advocates have long argued that communities are safer when more good citizens are armed.