COLOMBIA – South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson asked federal prosecutors to review a fatal police shooting after a video camera released this week showed officers shooting handcuffed 28-year-old Ariane McCree.
Wilson refused to press charges against the two Chester police officers involved: Nicholas Harris and Justin Baker. But he called for an additional review by the US Attorney’s Office on Saturday, in the wake of the continuing cry from the Chester Pine community of 5,400 between Columbia and Charlotte.
After the video of the November incident first appeared on Thursday, McCree’s family asked for the officers involved to be fired and charged.
Wilson refused to file the charges in March, after accepting the findings of an investigation by the state’s Legal Enforcement Division, which found some witnesses who said McCree pointed a gun at the police while he was handcuffed.
As soon as McCree raised the gun, the police were legally defending themselves and opening fire by opening fire, Wilson concluded.
“This led our office to the conclusion that the shooting was justified, but because of constant questions from his family and the community and in the interest of complete transparency, we are asking another outside agency to review the case and our findings,” Wilson said. in a statement on Saturday.
There was no immediate word whether federal prosecutor Peter McCoy had opened an investigation. A spokesman for Wilson said McCoy’s office indicated that it was willing to review the case. A lawyer for the McCree family was not immediately available for comment.
In any case, the family of McCree, a former Chester High School football player, says the video’s release leaves many questions unanswered.
On the one hand, it does not clearly show McCree pointing his gun at the police. It shows what appears to be a silver object, possibly McCree’s weapon, near its right side.
The video also shows Baker opening fire across the Walmart parking lot, about eight cars away.
The video, which was first published by Chester News & Reporter, lacks audio at important times because Baker only activated his body camera after filming began.
After McCree’s collapse, the video shows a policeman retrieving a pistol, which SLED investigators later determined McCree bought from a pawn shop.
At a news conference on Friday, the McCree family condemned the use of force by Chester police for what officers said started as a shoplifting incident. McCree took a $ 45.87 handle from the store without paying earlier that morning, according to the SLED investigation.
“If it’s true, it’s not worth your life,” said Charlie Stringfellow, McCree’s grandfather. “People steal from Walmart every day.”
In his statement on Saturday, Wilson acknowledged these concerns.
“This was a tragic end to what should have been a simple arrest for shoplifting,” he said. But he said officials had a right to defend themselves.
Wilson’s decision on Saturday also comes after weeks of protests in the country against police brutality in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minnesota police.
“This office is concerned with the perceptions that many people in South Carolina and the country have about the police community,” said Wilson. “That’s why we have been as transparent as possible … Now, we are asking an additional external agency to review everything in the hope that it will answer any questions or concerns that the family and the community have.”
Follow Joseph Cranney on Twitter @joey_cranney.