North Charleston Police Sgt. Eddie Bullard shot himself and then made up a story for investigators that he was wounded by his own gun during a struggle with a shadowy suspect, Police Chief Jon Zumalt said Friday.
In a hastily called late afternoon City Hall press conference, Zumalt said that Bullard’s account of being shot with his gun while defending himself outside a Rivers Avenue business upset the police and the community.
“It gets everybody on edge,” he said. “I’m sorry to the community.”
Zumalt, who was part of a massive police response to the reported shooting, said he was immediately uneasy about the facts of the case.
“There just wasn’t anything that corroborated what (Bullard) was saying,” Zumalt said. “Finally today I became worried that it didn’t happen as the officer reported it.”
The 46-year-old officer admitted Friday that he lied about the incident, Zumalt said.
He said Bullard was suspended without pay pending further investigation. The chief said he was concerned about Bullard’s mental health.
“He’s very troubled,” Zumalt said.
Department spokesman Spencer Pryor did not elaborate, citing privacy regulations.
The department had no prior indications that Bullard had psychological problems that would prompt him to shoot himself and lie to investigators about what happened, Zumalt said.
Zumalt said he is concerned about getting Bullard psychological help.
Bullard did not respond to a message left on his cellphone Friday night.
City Councilman Bob King appeared at the press conference. Afterward, King said he was proud of the police department for sorting out the truth of the situation so quickly.
“We are very disappointed in the circumstances. I think it was certainly good police work,” King said. “The police department moved on that thing as soon as things didn’t add up. They pursued it until they got a confession out of him today.”
The State Law Enforcement Division is also investigating.
“He’s been a good police officer,” King said. “That’s the tragic part about it.”
Bullard’s storyThe sergeant told officers two rounds were fired during a struggle early Wednesday and a bullet slammed into his protective vest. He crumpled to the ground, but the round stopped short of penetrating his abdomen.
The 15-year veteran said Thursday the bullet’s impact was very painful but doesn’t appear to have caused any lasting damage beyond some nasty bruising and possibly a torn muscle.
About 4:30 a.m. on the Fourth of July, Bullard radioed a report that he had been shot outside the Carpet Wholesalers store. He told officers he had been jumped from behind after he had stopped to talk with a suspicious man he saw standing outside the store, which was closed.
He reported that the man who jumped him tried to get his gun and during the struggle, the gun fired twice.
In his report, Bullard was only able to describe his assailant as a black male wearing black clothes.
Similar casesSuch incidents, while not common, have happened before.
A veteran Baltimore homicide investigator was accused by prosecutors last month of shooting himself in a parking garage in that city last year, then fabricating a story about being attacked by an unknown man. Police investigators raised concerns early on that the bullet that struck the detective had come from his own gun, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Closer to home, a Summerville police officer drew scrutiny in May 2003 after he made a frantic call for help during a midnight stop on rural Sheep Island Road. Police found Officer Peter Wright lying on the ground and clutching his belly, with a fresh hole in his protective vest.
Wright told officers he was shot with his own pistol during a struggle with a suspicious man.
SLED agents spent three months investigating the incident without finding a suspect or evidence that would disprove Wright’s account. But an internal investigation by Summerville police concluded that Wright likely staged the whole incident and lied to department officials probing the episode. Wright quietly resigned from the department in November 2003, a month after the internal report was completed.