Several weeks after a Huger man was shot and killed after he opened fire on a Berkeley County deputy in a rural community in the Francis Marion National Forest, authorities released dramatic footage of the violent standoff.
A traffic stop preceded a volley of gunfire on Feb. 26.
A resident on Waterfowl Lane in Huger reported to authorities that Joseph Hart, 50, was speeding on the gravel road. The deputy who responded that afternoon spotted Hart's Jeep and followed it to a nearby driveway.
Roughly 90 minutes of gunfire ensued, ending when a deputy's bullet killed Hart. No law enforcement officers were injured.
Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis said the dashcam video appears to show a "highly agitated" man who pinned down the deputy with gunfire. With nowhere to retreat, the deputy crouched behind his Sheriff's Office SUV as bullets pierced the vehicle. He relied on his survival training and waited for backup.
"(Hart) had made up his mind he was gonna kill that deputy and anybody else," Lewis said.
It was the eighth shooting involving Berkeley County sheriff's deputies since 2014, according to State Law Enforcement Division records. Three of those shootings left law enforcement officers wounded.
'I'm gonna kill ya'
Hart was standing beside his Jeep when the deputy pulled into the driveway. They were outside a home on Waterfowl Lane where Hart had been staying
Hart raised a handgun. Authorities said he fired the first shot.
In the dashcam video, the deputy intermittently returns fire while ducking behind his vehicle.
Barely 50 yards away, Hart walks behind the Jeep and then reemerges, a rifle trained at the deputy.
Hart then appears to take cover behind a door of the Jeep.
Glass shards and debris fly as a bullet strikes the windshield of the deputy's SUV. And then another.
Hart again raises a weapon toward the deputy, this time a rifle.
“I said get the (expletive) out!” Hart says, squeezing the trigger on his weapon.
As they exchange fire, the deputy pleads with the shooter to let him retreat.
The deputy’s windshield is a mess of bullet holes and fractal webs.
“Let me get out of here!” the deputy shouts.
Hart responds by firing at least four more shots.
“Roger, I got a high-power rifle shooting at me,” the deputy says over his radio.
The deputy continues to try to negotiate his exit.
“Will you let me run away, please? Will you let me run out of here? … I will not shoot at you if you let me run. Here’s my gun, see? … I got it pointed straight in the air.”
Hart orders the deputy to leave the property. The deputy insists his tires have been shot out. Again, the gunman takes aim at the lawman. It’s been 12 minutes of gunfire, and the deputy’s backup is still en route.
"I’m gonna kill ya, boy!" Hart says.
It would take at least 5 more minutes for backup to arrive. More deputies, an armored vehicle and a SWAT team convene in the driveway, the armored truck blocking the shooter's view of the deputies. The deputy pinned behind his SUV moves to safety.
At once, a swarm of 10 or so officers with their weapons drawn move in toward the Jeep. At least three more shots ring out.
Hart is killed.
Challenges of rural areas
The Feb. 26 shooting fell on the same date of another harrowing experience for the Sheriff's Office. Three years earlier, a deputy was shot and wounded in a close-range shootout after she approached a suspicious vehicle at a Goose Creek shopping center.
More than a year ago, another deputy was shot and injured when he and other officers responded to a domestic violence call near St. Stephen.
In 2015, a lieutenant was shot in the head while talking to a customer at a Moncks Corner gas station.
Other shootings in recent years have involved Berkeley deputies shooting people who drew weapons or fired at them.
As a result, Lewis said his agency has stepped up its annual combat shooting training, which teaches deputies how to survive when they're trapped by gunfire with little cover — the type of situation that unfolded in Huger. Deputies also are outfitted with tourniquet and bandage kits.
Lewis said the most recent shootout highlighted the unique challenges of patrolling a large, rural county.
"We have issues and needs that other jurisdictions may not have because of the geographical layout," Lewis said.
Three deputies typically patrol the zone that includes the Huger neighborhood where the shooting occurred. Two of them were out sick when the deputy responded to the initial speeding complaint on Waterfowl Lane. Backup wasn't sent immediately because it wasn't an emergency call, Lewis said.
Once the shooting began, the deputy dodged bullets for 17 minutes before other officers arrived, Lewis said.
Lewis said his agency relies heavily on aid from the Charleston County Sheriff's Office and agencies bordering the northern tip of the county. Still, deputies who work in the county's most remote areas must rely on training to deescalate situations because "backup is sometimes not close by," he said.
Four deputies who fired their weapons in the Huger incident remain on administrative leave. Lewis has not identified them, saying Thursday that they and others involved in the shooting are receiving counseling.
An investigation by SLED is ongoing.
For the second time in a month, authorities in Berkeley County on Thursday found themselves in the line of fire.