The suspect in the shooting of a Berkeley County deputy was questioned and let go several days before he was killed after a 10-hour standoff Thursday, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.
Deputies spotted Jerome Thomas Caldwell on a road about 3 miles from the crime scene shortly after a search for the gunman was called off, according to an affidavit released Friday. Caldwell was trying to flag down drivers and told deputies he had spent the night in the woods. He gave them his name and address on Venning Road in Mount Pleasant.
When asked why deputies let Caldwell go, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman referred questions to SLED. SLED spokesman Thom Berry said he didn’t have an immediate answer.
Lt. Will Rogers was shot and critically wounded about 10:30 p.m. May 14 outside the Exxon at U.S. Highway 52 and Cypress Gardens Road. The masked gunman fled in a car he stole at gunpoint from the parking lot.
The car was found crashed in a ditch, with the black mask inside. A massive search ensued.
On May 15, SLED released a sketch of a person of interest, which was later confirmed to be Caldwell. The search was called off that day.
About 8:15 a.m. May 16, Caldwell was spotted on Old Highway 52 about 3 miles north of the gas station.
On May 19, after studying video from the gas station, a SLED agent visited Caldwell at his house. Caldwell consented to a DNA mouth swab, according to the affidavit.
The next day, it was determined that Caldwell’s DNA sample matched evidence found in the mask, according to the arrest warrant. Police didn’t find Caldwell at home that night but tracked him to the Robert Mills Manor on Beaufain Street.
About 3:47 a.m. Thursday, a SLED agent knocked on an apartment door to deliver an arrest warrant. Caldwell slammed the door and started making threats, and the standoff was on. He fired his gun several times inside the building throughout the morning, according to residents and police.
Around 11:45 a.m., the SWAT team starting lobbing tear-gas canisters into the building where Caldwell had holed up in three different apartments. At 1:47 p.m., a quick series of gunshots could be heard. Caldwell came out firing and was killed, according to officers. He was declared dead 12 minutes later.
At a press conference after the shooting, acting Berkeley County Sheriff Butch Henerey said SLED was still looking for the person of interest. SLED said on Friday that the person of interest was Caldwell. Sheriff’s spokesman Michael Mule said SLED didn’t inform the sheriff of that until Friday.
A criminal background check showed no violent offenses for Caldwell, mainly a 2007 misdemeanor conviction for shoplifting and driving without a license. His relatives said his personality had changed several weeks before the deputy was shot, and Caldwell kept saying he expected to be shot to death by cops.
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.