Police standoffs often prompted by fear, rage, feelings of desperation
Feelings of hopelessness and desperation. Fear of going to prison. Rage at life’s injustices.
Recent standoffs in the Charleston area:
Tuesday: A three-hour standoff at a home on Wappetaw Place in the Parish Place subdivision ends with Mount Pleasant police shooting and killing a 60-year-old man after he points a gun at officers.
Sept. 10: After more than an hour of coaxing by North Charleston police negotiators, a man authorities feared would hurt himself gives up and ends a lengthy standoff at Fairmont Mobile Home Park on Remount Road. He is taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation.
Aug. 25: A wanted suspect in a drug investigation keeps Charleston police and federal agents at bay at Bridgeview Village Apartments on North Romney Street for five hours before climbing from a window and surrendering. He is taken to jail.
May 8: A 31-year-old man threatening suicide fires more than 40 shots from his Birmingham Drive home in the Sangaree community at homes, cars and officers during a standoff that lasts more than three hours. Law enforcement officers eventually charge into the home and subdue the man with a stun gun.
Feb. 2: In a vehicle bearing hand-painted messages saying “Stay Away,” “Back Off,” “Happy Now” and “Game Over,” a man threatening to harm himself holds off authorities for two hours atop the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge before surrendering. He is taken to a psychiatric facility for observation.
Jan. 30: A 21-year-old man wanted on kidnapping charges and thought to be armed with knives ends a six-hour standoff with North Charleston police when he walks out of his aunt’s house on Louise Drive. He is taken to jail.
Dec. 22, 2011: A 34-year-old man is arrested after bursting into a James Island home on Arsburn Road and shooting at responding deputies, setting off a short standoff that ends peacefully.
Nov. 9, 2011: North Charleston police dispatch a SWAT team to handle a 53-year-old man who waves a gun and reportedly threatens to shoot people on Rich Street. Officers use a stun gun to arrest him.
Oct. 27, 2011: North Charleston police shoot and kill a 63-year-old man after he fires a shot near three people and points a gun at an officer during a brief standoff. The incident begins at the Deerhaven Mobile Home Park on Twisted Antler Drive and ends at a home on Salamander Creek Road.
Sept. 7, 2011: A 24-year-old man barricades himself inside his West Ashley home and threatens to harm himself when police arrive at Memminger Avenue to ask him about a copper theft. He surrenders after an hour and is taken into custody.
June 1, 2011: Charleston County SWAT members end a four-hour standoff by charging into a domestic violence suspect’s Edenborough Road home on Johns Island and find him hiding in a closet. The suspect, 40, is arrested.
May 8, 2011: A 52-year-old man threatening suicide barricades himself inside his Coastal Marsh Road apartment in Mount Pleasant for three hours after police say he hit his girlfriend and held a gun to her face. He surrenders about three hours later and is arrested.
June 9, 2010: A 46-year-old man threatening to harm himself holes up in a room at a West Ashley motel for nearly six hours while police try to coax him out. He finally leaves Motel 6 on Savannah Highway, surrenders and is taken to a nearby hospital for observation.
May 28, 2010: Blasts from percussion grenades end a 29-hour standoff between more than 30 officers and a man with a rifle threatening suicide at a home on Berkeley County’s Netherfield Drive. The man is taken to a hospital for evaluation.
March 9, 2010: A SWAT team surrounds a James Island home after a 33-year-old man armed with a handgun fires five or six shots into the tire of his ex-girlfriend’s car and hides in his parents’ Riley Road home. He surrenders six hours later and is taken into custody.
Dec. 4, 2009: A 56-year-old man wanders from room to room in his house on Goose Creek’s Juliett Drive carrying a gun while Berkeley County sheriff’s deputies surround his house. He eventually comes out and fires at a deputy. He misses, as do two deputies who return fire. He is then arrested.
Dec. 1, 2009: A five-hour standoff at a mobile home off U.S. Highway 78 in Ladson ends with two volleys of tear gas, a stun grenade and the arrest of a 46-year-old man who had been in a domestic dispute with his girlfriend.
Sept. 7, 2009: A 34-year-old Charleston man takes a woman home from a strip club and holds her against her will at his Doscher Avenue home. He eventually surrenders and is arrested after his father talks him into coming outside.
June 24, 2009: A 24-year-old Summerville man who is a suspect in a string of seven robberies surrenders to North Charleston police after a three-hour standoff at a Motel 6 on Ashley Phosphate Road.
Jan. 26, 2009: A 44-year-old serial bank robber holds North Charleston police at bay for three hours at an Econo Lodge on Saul White Boulevard before finally surrendering. He is arrested and taken into custody.
These are just a few of the reasons often cited for people unraveling, holing up in a home or business and holding police at bay, usually for hours on end.
It’s a scenario area law enforcement agencies train and prepare for. And it’s one they are called on to deal with on a fairly regular basis around the Lowcountry.
In the past three years, area police have handled at least 19 standoffs with armed, threatening or despondent individuals.
Many of the encounters have dragged on for three hours or more, tying up law enforcement resources and keeping neighborhoods on edge. (The local record may be a 2002 standoff on James Island that lasted three days.)
“Our goal when we start out is for it to end peacefully and that everybody involved gets out safe,” said Lt. Anita Craven, commander of the Charleston police crisis negotiation unit. “That is our number one, foremost priority.”
The majority of the standoffs in recent years have ended with a peaceful outcome, usually with an individual’s surrender, followed by an arrest or committal to a psychiatric facility.
But the high stakes involved in such encounters were illustrated Tuesday when Mount Pleasant police shot and killed a 60-year-old man who pointed a gun at officers following a three-hour standoff in the Parish Place neighborhood.
That type of ending is what police spend hours training to avoid.
North Charleston police Capt. Joe Stephens said his department’s negotiators undergo at least 40 hours of instruction to get on the team, and they continually train to keep their skills fresh.
Every call is different, and they need to stay calm and patient while trying to resolve the situation in a way that no one gets hurt, he said.
“Basically it comes down to this — the suspect dictates our response,” he said. “He or she is responsible for how we react. If they are talking, then we are talking. When we break talks is when someone threatens the safety of our officers or civilians. ... But if we can start talking to them, that works most of the time.”
Most recently, on Sept. 10, his team spent more than an hour coaxing a despondent man, whom authorities feared would harm himself, from his mobile home on Remount Road. He eventually came out, and was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation, police said.
Charleston forensic psychologist Bart Saylor said a person who has reached such a nadir is often overwhelmed by his circumstances or has suffered great loss, rejection or a raw deal that has knocked their self-esteem for a loop.
“They’ve ruminated on it and worked themselves up to the point where there is no exit strategy,” he said.
Like many area agencies, Charleston police negotiators work closely with professional mental health workers to help them deal with such folks. They also train four times each year with the department’s SWAT team and bomb squad, running through true-to-life scenarios in which each unit is called upon to use its special skills to avert bloodshed and tragedy.
But that’s not always possible.
In October of last year, North Charleston police said they were forced to shoot and kill a 63-year-old man on Salamander Creek Drive after he fired shots at three people and threatened an officer with a gun.
In April 2001, a Charleston County Sheriff’s Office sharpshooter shot and killed a Goose Creek man after an eight-hour standoff in which he held his baby hostage and threatened to blow up his home with a keg of black powder.
For negotiators, finding out what’s behind a standoff and triggering the suspect’s behavior is key, Craven said. They then try to establish communication, build rapport and try to persuade the suspect to surrender.
It can be tough going, and the negotiator has to keep his or her cool with someone who be might be very angry, insulting or worse.
“It takes a special person to be a negotiator and it takes a lot of training to be a good negotiator,” she said.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.