Charleston police officer takes his life during standoff in West Ashley

Sgt. George Hildebidle

A Charleston police officer took his own life Thursday at his West Ashley home.

Sgt. George Hildebidle, 33, was found in a finished room of his garage after a standoff with law enforcement, according to Sgt. Eric Watson, spokesman for the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen later recalled Hildebidle, a married father of two, as “a wonderful officer.”

“It’s a great loss,” Mullen said.

How Hildebidle died would come later from the Charleston County Coroner office, Mullen said. That information was not immediately available.

“Something happened and he chose to end the situation in his own way. This is a tragedy not only for his family but his co-workers,” Mullen said.

Hildebidle served on police Team 2 in the downtown area. He had been on the force since 2003 and received numerous service awards, Mullen said.

Officers never made contact with Hildebidle during the hours they tried to reach him by phone, text and public address system. His wife called 911 shortly before 8 a.m. to report a domestic situation. She said Hildebidle was a threat to himself and her, officials said.

Authorities proceeded with caution because they knew Hildebidle was armed. More than 50 officers responded. The presence of two dogs, a mixed-breed German Shepherd and a mixed-breed Pit Bull, in the house was a complicating factor, officials said.

The situation unfolded when police were sent to 177 Sugar Magnolia Way, which is in Grand Oaks Plantation off Bees Ferry Road, at 7:52 a.m. to check out a domestic situation, police spokesman Charles Francis said.

When police found out an officer was inside with a gun, they called in the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. The officer was in the house alone, Francis said.

Several nearby houses were evacuated, Watson said.

Judy Gilbreath was walking her dog at an entrance to the neighborhood which had been blocked off by police.

“Very quiet. You never see anything happening,” she said of the community.

A SWAT team stood outside the house for several hours. A robot was sent in after Hildebidle failed to respond. The SWAT team found Hildebidle dead in the home shortly after noon, officials said.

The Charleston Police Department recognized Hildebidle as police officer of the quarter in May 2008. The S.C. Department of Safety recognized him for having more than 50 DUI arrests in May 2010.

Hildebidle was in a news story in March 2006 after dealing with a James Island man covered with cooking oil who attacked him with nunchucks. Hildebidle and Officer Adam Thayer were sent to check out a complaint of indecent exposure in a James Island apartment complex. Rudolph Claude Smith, 49, answered the door holding a pair of wooden nunchucks and his torso covered in oil. Hildebidle was punched in the face and hit with the sticks connected by a short chain, according to the incident report.

Dave Munday contributed to this report.