911 call threatened police

Police at the scene on Wappetaw Place near O'Sullivan Street in the Parish Place subdivision during a standoff with a man with a gun barricaded in a house.

MOUNT PLEASANT — During the first half of a police standoff 11 days ago, Richard Cathcart III made his threats clear by dialing 911 three times.

In each of his first two calls, the 60-year-old Parish Place resident told a dispatcher to relay a message: “Tell the cops to go away!”

But patrol officers from the Mount Pleasant Police Department followed their training in dealing with Cathcart, a man who was armed with a pistol and had access to even greater firepower and the know-how to use it.

Police surrounded the house on Wappetaw Place and took cover behind trees. From relatives, they gathered intelligence on the retired engineer. They tried to coax him out with voice-amplified entreaties.

“We cannot go away,” an officer said, according to radio transmissions released Friday. “He needs to talk to us.”

Cathcart didn’t like that in spite of his pleadings, police were setting up a perimeter outside. His speech ambled from the alcohol he had been drinking as he called 911 one more time. His warnings became dire.

“If you don’t get those cops away from here,” he told the dispatcher, “I’m going to kill every one of them.”

Cathcart’s last phone calls before he was fatally shot partially account for the circumstances a SWAT team encountered Sept. 18 when it was tasked with defusing a situation that was similar to others that patrol officers and the Cathcarts had successfully resolved in the past.

The standoff had started when Cathcart’s wife called a non-emergency police line to report that her husband had stuffed a gun into his pocket during a fit of rage and that he levied threats.

The Post and Courier acquired the recordings after filing a request under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

For Cathcart’s wife and the police department, it wasn’t the first time Cathcart had armed himself and threatened to harm all comers.

Twice during the fall of 2009, Nancy Cathcart told police that her husband was “armed and dangerous” and deep in the throes of a fury fueled by vodka, marijuana and medication, according to documents obtained through a separate FOIA request.

His wife reported in one case that during an argument, he went into a “guest room where firearms are kept and said that he was going to shoot anyone who came into the residence,” an incident report stated. He never mentioned “police” or “cops” in any of his warnings.

Each incident came to a peaceful conclusion. Each time, he and his wife agreed to separate for the evening and go to bed.

The incidents fell between Cathcart’s two drunken-driving arrests, both of which resulted from traffic wrecks. They came after a call to police in 2005, when an acquaintance told officers that Cathcart said “he was going to end it.” But at that time, Cathcart assured the officers that he had no intention of committing suicide.

What made this month’s confrontation with police end in Cathcart’s death, however, isn’t something that the documents or the recordings brought to light.

The State Law Enforcement Division has opened an investigation into whether the use of deadly force was justified.

An autopsy revealed that he suffered a fatal bullet wound to the chest, presumably from a SWAT team’s rifle fire. A coroner’s office official wouldn’t say whether he was struck elsewhere.

The ordeal started with a call from Cathcart’s wife around 2:25 p.m., after she already had left her home and taken refuge at a relative’s apartment. Family members told the newspaper that he was upset over a remodeling project at his house and that he started yelling at his wife and three dogs.

A neighbor walked over and tried to reason with him, but Cathcart said he would shoot if she didn’t leave.

The woman, who declined to be identified, said she is a trained domestic counselor and regarded the threat as empty. She considered him a friend and didn’t want him arrested.

She was one of two friends who criticized the police response, and said Cathcart just needed to be hospitalized.

“I’m a little concerned about his mental status,” his wife told a police dispatcher that day. “Obviously, he’s got ... problems.

“He’s been in rehab (for alcohol) twice.”

Patrol officers responded to the scene as information trickled in.

They knew Cathcart was armed and had an extensive history with the police department. One officer, in radio communications, expressed that Cathcart was bipolar and suffered manic depression.

The officers setting up outside saw him emerge with a small pistol. They knew that he was on a rifle team during his years at Clemson University, so he was adept at handling weapons. He owned shotguns and rifles.

He yelled at officers from his house, but his threats became clear through the phone calls.

Cathcart said “if they try to enter the house, he’s going to shoot at them,” an officer radioed. “So if you’re on perimeter, keep that in mind. Stay behind something solid.”

The recordings were released as 144 separate audio files that account for 54 minutes of a more than three-hour standoff.

They revealed some tactics police used in scoping out the home and preparing to end the standoff — that the backyard ditch was a good place to hide, that police cut off electricity to the home, and that Cathcart could be hiding in a woodworking shed to which he often retreated when he was stressed.

Officers tried hailing Cathcart through a public-address system, and dispatchers tried futilely to transfer his 911 calls to a negotiator.

They wanted to get him “a message that he’s not in any trouble,” one officer said, “but we need to talk to him.”

The recordings do not account for the SWAT team’s actions after the police learned that they could be Cathcart’s target. They do not detail negotiation attempts.

Patrol officers were ordered to retreat from the house as SWAT members took over.

Around 5:30 p.m., more than 2½ hours after the initial report, Cathcart tried calling his wife, according to the recordings. But they didn’t talk, and later attempts to reach him failed.

Twenty minutes later, Cathcart walked onto his porch and aimed his pistol.

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.