Self- defense cases can be tricky

ANDREW KNAPP/STAFF -- March 15, 2013 -- Diantha Shaw sits outside her Hanahan home holding a picture of her only son, Rodreguez Shaw, who was fatally shot Dec. 20 inside a North Charleston convenience store. The police said the 26-year-old's suspected killer, Rodney Fleming, 21, acted in self-defense after Shaw first pulled a gun on him.

When he was accepted to three colleges after high school, life seemed promising for Rodreguez Shaw.

But it wasn’t easy during the few years before he died in what was called North Charleston’s second justifiable homicide of 2012.

Instead of college, he found himself ensnared in street life. He was jailed twice after drug agents raided the houses he was in.

Some of the turbulence was out of his control: He was devastated when his grandparents died in a car wreck.

Things started to look up last year, though. He had resolved to escape his past by moving northward for a job opportunity just before Christmas.

But on Dec. 16, something that upset Shaw would end that hope and his life. And his mother still doesn’t understand why.

It started as bickering between him and a young woman outside a North Charleston convenience store. He then walked inside, toward the woman’s boyfriend.

That’s when the man shot him with a .40-caliber pistol. He stumbled through the back door and collapsed. At 26, he was dead.

A short time later, the shooter turned himself in, telling detectives that he acted in self-defense.

Witnesses also thought Shaw had a firearm, but officers never could find it.

Even without the gun, police said Shaw’s reported threats against the man were enough for a ruling that the shooting was justified. He was not arrested.

Questions about the death of her only child eat away at Diantha Shaw, 46. She wants to know if the ultimate measure of self-defense was the right decision.

“I can’t say whether he had a gun, whether he threatened someone else’s life,” she said. “But at the same time, as a mom, I need answers.”

The self-defense argument sometimes prolongs homicide investigations.

Charleston County saw three justifiable homicides in 2012 — triple the typical rate of the past five years. The state averages a dozen yearly, many of which are complicated by additional court hearings.

Deputy Chief Scott Deckard of the North Charleston Police Department said his detectives had no information that contradicted the shooter’s story.

“If the evidence and anything that comes forward changes the core details of the case, then certainly charges could be made,” Deckard said. “But what we have now is what we have.”

When someone is killed in the name of self-defense, the investigators’ search for truth and relatives’ quest for justice can get complicated.

In 2010, Beaufort County tow-truck operator Preston Oates fatally shot Carlos Olivera, who was angry that Oates had put a parking boot on his minivan. Olivera had a gun, Oates said, so he acted to save himself.

Olivera’s family said their loved one had started to walk away when he was shot. Oates was arrested on a manslaughter charge, but the case has yet to be tried as his attorneys argue for dismissal under the state’s “castle doctrine,” which allows deadly force when life or property is threatened.

The next year, Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs cited self-defense in shooting a man with whom he had long butted heads. That death investigation has since bounced between state and federal agencies. Authorities still have not given the family a detailed account of what occurred.

Rodreguez Shaw’s mother cannot grasp what could have turned her son into a man someone would fear.

At Hanahan High School he played football, served as president of his sophomore class and graduated with honors. He envisioned developing a new music genre by pairing his saxophone with rap.

Education was important to him, but he put off college to work. When he was 22, he had a daughter. Later, he would take her to ballet class, pick her up at school.

His first arrest came in late 2008, when investigators said he broke into a West Ashley apartment and stole $1,250 from a safe and spare change from a Grey Poupon jar. Detectives found his fingerprint on the mustard jar, but he avoided a serious conviction by pleading guilty to trespassing.

His life went further downhill in 2009, when tragedy struck as he was living with his grandparents, Johnny and Betty Vice. A man just out of prison sped away from a traffic stop in downtown Charleston and slammed into the Vices’ car, killing them both.

In 2011 he was arrested twice for driving with a suspended license. In April of that year, police officers searched a Charleston home he was in and found $17,000 worth of cocaine and marijuana. He was charged with drug trafficking, but he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

Rodney Fleming, a first cousin Shaw barely knew, also had been to jail.

Fleming was arrested in September 2010 after another relative said he was holding a gun as he cursed and threatened to shoot her. Fleming made no threats and was holding a cellphone, not a gun, an attorney said. The charge was dropped.

Fleming and Shaw frequented the East Montague Market, advertising candy and the “coldest beer in town.”

About 11 p.m. on Dec. 16, Fleming was inside as Shaw argued with Fleming’s girlfriend in the parking lot at 1910 E. Montague Ave. The city’s deputy police chief said Fleming felt threatened after he noticed it through a window.

“There were indicators that he might be a target for Shaw because of a disagreement in the past,” Deckard said. “His guard goes up when he sees that.”

The store clerk waited on a few men as Fleming sauntered near a cooler in the back. Shaw walked in and headed straight for Fleming’s aisle, lined with Chef Boyardee, Ramen noodles and pork rinds.

“I thought they both had a gun,” said the clerk, who declined to be identified. “But it all happened in just five seconds.”

Fleming fired from one end of the aisle to the other. One bullet hit Shaw in the right side above the waistline. Another hit his left side, just below his chest. A refrigerator full of frozen peanuts also was hit.

Customers scattered. Fleming ran out the front door and left in his car. Twenty minutes later he showed up at City Hall with three other people. He gave his .40-caliber Hi-Point pistol to the security guards.

Meanwhile, Shaw stumbled through a back door and fell onto the grass. When police arrived they found him struggling to breathe. He went still. They bandaged him and revived him twice. When officers asked who had shot him, he shook his head.

The officers looked, but they couldn’t find another gun.

Police found no indication, Deckard said, that Fleming had a concealed-weapons permit allowing him to carry a gun into the store. Without one, concealing a firearm is a misdemeanor.

That is part of the investigation that is unresolved, Deckard said, as is the exact nature of Shaw’s threats that evening.

“That’s not the person I knew,” Shaw’s mother said, “to go in a place like a wild man.”