More than three years after a woman shot a 20-year-old man to death outside a Ladson gas station, a judge granted her immunity from prosecution after determining she acted in self-defense.
Tunisia Monique Bryant shot and killed Javion Tyrese Ford on Aug. 15, 2019, at the Scotchman gas station at the intersection of U.S. Highway 78 and Von Ohsen Road. The 39-year-old woman cooperated with authorities at the scene. She was charged later that day with murder and a weapons offense, according to court documents.
Bryant's attorney argued Ford confronted Bryant at the gas station in the presence of her children, threatened the family with physical force and reached for Bryant's gun, which was inside her vehicle.
Bryant's attorney grounded her argument for immunity in South Carolina's application of the Castle Doctrine, a legal principle that protects a person's right to defend themselves in their home against an intruder. The state law extends the principle beyond residences to "occupied vehicles."
A person is immune from criminal prosecution if they use force against a person whom they believe is unlawfully or forcefully entering their property. In that circumstance, "a person is presumed to have a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death.”
"My client was in fear for her life (and) for her children's lives," Mary Alison Ford, a 9th Circuit public defender, said at a Feb. 1 hearing.
But the prosecutor argued Bryant's use of deadly force unreasonably escalated what was a verbal argument.
"If one of your kids told someone they were going to beat them up, do you think it would be OK for that person to shoot your child in the chest?" asked Assistant 9th Circuit Solicitor Cassity Ann Brewer.
“A reasonable person would not have killed someone in that situation," the prosecutor added.
Circuit Judge Roger M. Young ruled March 16 from the bench in favor of the defense. His decision followed oral arguments and a lengthy hearing last month that featured testimony from Bryant, the victim's girlfriend and other witnesses.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she respects the outcome of the case.
"We thought the matter was worthy of a hearing versus our dismissing the case," Wilson said. "We knew it was a tough factual situation and we respect Judge Young’s thorough approach."
Attorneys and witnesses at the immunity hearing last month painted a picture of a dysfunctional relationship between Bryant and Ford that erupted into gun violence that August day.
The defense and state disputed an array of facts about the case. They agreed that on the afternoon of the shooting, Ford and his girlfriend were on poor terms with Bryant, who had previously been staying at their home in Berkeley County with her children.
Ford and his girlfriend pulled into the gas station and confronted Bryant, who was near her truck with her three sons. Ford and his girlfriend thought Bryant had broken into their home the previous day and stolen from them, the prosecutor said.
Bryant testified Ford ran up to her and was "vicious," demanding his belongings and threatening to beat up her and her children.
Bryant's 18-year-old son, who was seated in the passenger seat, removed his mother's gun from the glovebox, she testified. Ford shoved part of his body into the car to try to grab the firearm.
Bryant, who then took position of the gun, said she repeatedly told him to walk away. Bryant shot Ford as he was motioning to strike her, she testified.
A cashier inside the Scotchman that day testified through video conference Feb. 1 that she saw Ford put his hand in the air as if he were going to strike Bryant.
“He was about to punch her,” the cashier testified.
The victim's girlfriend, 24-year-old Shantrell Govan, was present at the shooting. She defended Ford in her testimony and said Bryant had previously threatened the young couple.
Govan said she heard the gunshot. The gas station then fell silent. She rushed to try and help her boyfriend, who was the father of her child.
"He was very lovable," Govan said. "He was a family guy."