North Charleston police said Monday they will not pursue criminal charges against a man who confronted and fatally shot an unarmed 15-year-old boy over a stolen car.
Derrick Grant was killed Jan. 17 by Quadarrel Lamont Morton, 24, who reported Grant had repeatedly reached into the car on Celestial Court. Morton said in a 911 call he fired after Grant refused to stop.
No weapon was found on Grant or inside the vehicle, North Charleston Police Department spokesman Spencer Pryor confirmed Monday.
A police statement added that detectives had consulted with prosecutors on the legal principles at play.
State law allows people to use deadly force if they reasonably fear an imminent threat of serious injury, even if they are mistaken.
"The death of (Derrick Grant) is a tragedy for his family and for this community," the police said. "We have determined that this incident, however tragic, is not reasonably prosecutable under the law."
Grant's family members struggled to comprehend why the shooter hadn't waited for authorities before approaching the teenager. The police told them during a briefing earlier Monday that Morton was within his legal right to make a citizen's arrest over the stolen car, Mark Peper of West Ashley, an attorney for the loved ones, said.
No witnesses saw enough of the confrontation to say what Grant did during the encounter, leaving Morton's word as a primary basis for investigators' self-defense finding, Peper said.
"It's tragic that this individual didn't do what most citizens do: You call the police and wait," he said. "You don't pack heat and go out and hold the guy at gunpoint. That's not sitting well with the family."
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said prosecutors agreed with police officials' determination and "appreciate their consulting with us."
Morton does not have a serious criminal history.
He reported to police on Jan. 16 that his girlfriend's Hyundai had been stolen outside a Rivers Avenue convenience store.
For an unknown reason, the sedan showed up the next morning outside 2553 Celestial Court, near the home where the girlfriend and Morton live.
The police told Grant's family they don't know why the Charleston resident wound up at the spot 2 miles from where the car had been taken — if by coincidence, on purpose or for some other reason, Peper said. They hadn't been able to find any connection between Morton and Grant.
Morton went outside. He had a gun.
He saw someone go inside the car with a key, and he told the person to stop, he would say later.
"He reached for something. I fired once," Morton told a dispatcher. "I saw him reach again. I fired one more time."
Grant died there. Officers found his body lying mostly in the front seat, with his feet hanging through an open door.
The S.C. Protection of Persons and Property Act generally allows people to use such force in self-defense when faced with a threat of serious injury or to thwart a violent crime. Such fear of imminent peril is presumed when an intruder is breaking into a house or occupied car.
Beyond the home and the car, the "stand your ground" provision says people are not obligated to retreat and summon help if they encounter such a danger in the field.
Morton stayed at the scene as his girlfriend's mother talked to a 911 dispatcher. He later took over the phone call.
He had started to repeat his account of the episode to officers at the scene, but he stopped once they informed him of his right to remain silent, the police said.
He gave a full statement at the police department, Peper said.
Morton has not commented publicly since the shooting. The Post and Courier's attempts to contact him have not been successful.
By Monday, in the cul-de-sac where Grant died, mourners had left behind a makeshift memorial of about 50 candles. Many neighbors had heard the gunfire and looked out at this normally quiet street to the sight of Grant's body.
But they hadn't reported seeing exactly how he died.
"The only things we're left with are the facts supplied to law enforcement, and if those facts are true, they say it's justified," Peper said. "I don't know if we'll ever know what truly happened."