As NAACP decries deputies’ shooting of James Island man, sheriff not taking ‘absolute position’
Update: The NAACP held a press conference this morning to further discuss the case. Charleston chapter President Dot Scott said a broader investigation is needed and the U.S. Department of Justice should get involved.
She said other recent incidents in the area show a troubling trend of how blacks are treated by law enforcement.
“One thing I’m sure of is there are a lot of unanswered questions,” she said.
Like many in his James Island neighborhood, Kurt Watson walked outside his house when he heard sheriff’s deputies yelling Saturday night.
He peered less than 100 yards down Seaside Lane, where they surrounded 51-year-old Derryl Drayton, a relative of Watson.
Watson couldn’t see the kitchen knife that the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said Drayton was clutching. But he did see Drayton trying to surrender, he said.
“He had his hands above his head,” Watson said. “That’s when they tased him.”
After deputies hit Drayton a second time with a Taser, he ran and hopped a wire fence. When a deputy who had just arrived chased after him, Drayton turned and threw the knife, which hit the deputy’s leg.
Two lawmen then fatally shot Drayton.
Watson’s account, along with video, 911 calls and the deputies’ radio transmissions from that night, helped to further explain the incident and the emotions it has provoked in the black community.
The case has drawn attention from local activists and the headquarters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The president of the NAACP’s Charleston chapter, Dot Scott, said her suspicions of racial bias were raised when a supervising deputy told his underlings “good job” after the gunfire subsided.
“That’s the mind set of some of these officers,” Scott told The Post and Courier. “It’s a badge of honor to kill a n-----.”
Scott used a similar statement to express her reaction when she met with Sheriff Al Cannon on Tuesday.
The sheriff called the deputy’s choice of words, which were captured on a video, an “unfortunate” reference to deputies professionally guarding their own safety in the face of danger. He denied that the shooting was the result of bias.
But Cannon deferred to a State Law Enforcement Division probe aimed at determining whether the shooting was justified. “We’re not at a point where I’m taking some absolute position,” he said. “I can’t explain every precise action that a deputy takes, and I don’t know if they can explain everything they did.”
Deputies had been responding to a complaint from Drayton’s sister that he was threatening to kill her. He has struggled with mental illness and had been banned from the home.
But after his death, loved ones called 911 to express their dissatisfaction with how the episode and its aftermath were handled.
Scott called for a more detailed accounting of what led to Drayton’s death. She said Drayton had been shot down “like a dog.”
Drayton’s closest family members, though, again declined to comment Tuesday. His niece, Tonya Wilder of Atlanta, said Drayton’s father was hospitalized Monday and was in grave condition. The family, Wilder said, was struggling to deal with the two crises while “asking officials for more answers.”
‘Happening at once’
Drayton’s sister was the first to notify authorities of the problem at 10:11 p.m. Saturday.
‘Happening at once’
Through a non-emergency line, Yvonne Aiken, 60, reached a deputy on desk duty who relayed her complaints to county dispatchers.
Within minutes, Aiken told the dispatcher that Drayton was using “terrible language” and making threats to kill her “as usual.”
She said her brother hadn’t been living in their Greenhill Road for nearly two weeks. She was there caring for their ailing parents as her brother struggled with a crack cocaine addiction.
“I locked the doors,” she said. “He started beating on the windows telling me I’m a dead (expletive) today.”
She asked for help.
During their first confrontation, two deputies tried handcuffing Drayton. But he flailed and hit them, Cannon said, and got away.
In radio transmissions, the deputies said they lost their flashlights in the tussle as Drayton fled toward some buses outside a nearby school.
Scott, the local NAACP president, said she couldn’t understand why deputies couldn’t apprehend the middle-age man. At the time, the deputies didn’t see a knife on him. “Tell me how they let him run away and couldn’t catch up to him,” she said.
But it’s not the first time an outnumbered suspect managed to break free, Cannon said.
“The next thing you know, they’re running,” he said. “That happens.”
Drayton turned up 20 minutes later on Seaside Lane. He was armed with a kitchen knife, authorities said.
Deputies tried to bring him down with Tasers, but Cannon said Tuesday that the stun guns’ prongs didn’t make contact with his skin.
In videos from a sheriff’s car, it’s difficult to confirm whether Drayton’s arms were raised when the deputies twice fired their Tasers. Drayton isn’t visible from one camera’s angle, and he appears blurry and obscured by headlights in a separate video. At one point, Cannon said Drayton raised the knife to make threats against his own life. Some observers could have seen that as a sign of his surrender, he said. But the suspects’ actions were not certain, he acknowledged.
“It’s nighttime,” the sheriff said. “The car lights are shining in people’s faces. ... It’s difficult to see.”
Drayton ran from deputies, then turned abruptly to face them. That’s when a deputy suffered a minor wound when the knife hit his knee.
“He probably threw the knife,” Cannon said. “But it’s all happening at once.”
That deputy, Richard Craver, had just arrived. He hopped out of his cruiser and ran after Drayton as others stood at a distance with their Tasers pointed at him.
Craver charging an armed man wasn’t “prudent,” Scott said, and might have prompted Drayton to react.
It was 10:51 p.m. when William Fawcett, a 13-year law enforcement veteran who joined the Sheriff’s Office two years ago, and Levi Reiter, a deputy since 2001, fired nine times. At least three bullets hit him, but Cannon said six wounds were found on his body.
At first, paramedics moved Drayton’s body and tried to revive him. When they realized that their attempts would be fruitless, Cannon said, they returned his body to the scene.
Several community members cursed and accused authorities of wrongdoing that night.
Ministers showed up and helped quell their emotions. But their allegations, Cannon said, that Drayton had his hands up when he was shot were not accurate. Several in the crowd called 911 to ask for police to investigate the deputies.
“He raised his hands,” one caller said. “They tased him ... first. Then they shot him three or four times.”
A woman who identified herself as Drayton’s sister demanded a state trooper’s help “because they’re killing my brother.”
“Now one of them threatened to shoot me,” she told a dispatcher, “and I need to report him to a higher authority.”
A man who said he was Drayton’s brother threatened to take matters into his own hands.
“I need to speak to someone in charge,” he said. “And when I get there, so help me God, I’m going to do something. I may do something to that whole police department.”
Deputies sought help from Charleston police officers. They used a dog to help control the crowds. They brought in a mobile command truck.
Cannon said that his agency was constantly on the lookout for employees who “exhibit inappropriate behavior patterns,” but that bias wasn’t apparent. He said he sympathized with the loss for Drayton’s family, though. “These folks are understandably upset,” Cannon said. “My feelings and condolences go out to them.”
But Scott wondered, she said, if the ordeal would have turned out differently if Drayton hadn’t been black.
Scott noted the case of Alice Boland. The schizophrenic white woman threatened Ashley Hall school officials with a pistol earlier this year, but she was peacefully handcuffed.
In that encounter, though, police officers said Boland obeyed their commands. Drayton, the sheriff said, ignored orders.
NAACP officials planned a news conference at 11 a.m. Wednesday for what they dubbed a “recent troubling wave of shootings by law enforcement.”
In August, Scott noted, a Hanahan police officer fatally shot a 22-year-old man who had run from a traffic stop and started shooting at officers.
The NAACP also criticized the North Charleston Police Department’s shooting in March 2012 of 17-year-old Carlton Pringle, who had reportedly pointed a handgun at an officer. They called Pringle a church-going young man, but Facebook photos also showed him with a pistol.
“It’s about time we get some balance,” Scott said. “Black men are not dogs that they can just shoot down.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.