LANCASTER COUNTY, SC (WBTV) - On Your Side Investigates has uncovered new details about an incident in which a Lancaster County sheriff's deputy fired her gun, nearly hitting both a civilian and a fellow sheriff's deputy.
The shooting happened at a home off Sunnybrook Lane in Lancaster on October 2, 2016.
Deputies were called to the home just before 10:00 p.m. for a suicidal man who was trying to break into his family's gun safe and unlock a rifle.
Three deputies—two patrol deputies and a sergeant—responded to the home and eventually convinced the man to surrender the rifle he had accessed through his kitchen window.
According to the report written by the sergeant on scene, the gun was not loaded and had a lock through the chamber preventing the weapon from firing.
But, the sergeant wrote, as the man put the barrel of the rifle through the window, one of the other deputies fired one shot from her service weapon.
"I heard a lout 'pop' noise that I immediately knew was gunfire," the sergeant wrote. "'I yelled 'what the f**k!' I immediately pulled the rifle out of the window, and I immediately felt some type of debris hit the back of my left ear, and I felt other debris hit the left side of my face."
The sergeant said the bullet went through the window approximately 12 inches to the left of his head and just a few inches above his arm.
The shot was fired by Deputy Kiera Fayall. In her write-up of the incident, Fayall said she fired her weapon because she saw the barrel of the rifle through the window and perceived a threat.
"At this time, I perceived a threat to Sgt. Campbell and deputies on scene," Fayall wrote. "At this time, I ensured that Sgt. Campbell was out of the line of fire (I observed him turn slightly to the right of the window facing away from Robert) and fired one single round from my issued service issued weapon, Glock Model 22 at the silhouette of Robert to ensure that he was not able to succeed in harming Sgt. Campbell."
The shooting had gone undisclosed to the public until On Your Side Investigates asked the Sheriff's Office for details of the incident.
Our questions were prompted by a whistleblower inside the department who raised concerns over the fact that a report of the incident had been labeled as an accidental discharge.
A copy of the incident report first provided by the whistleblower and then corroborated by an identical report provided by the sheriff's office shows that senior deputies on scene determined the shooting was an accidental discharge.
Because of that, the incident report indicates, the Sheriff's Office leadership decided the investigation into the shooting would be handled internally and not by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, even though the report shows multiple investigators on scene thought SLED would be called.
The sergeant on scene wrote that he asked if SLED needed to be contacted and was told a short time later that they would not be.
Another supervisor on scene, Lieutenant Howell, also wrote that he asked about sled.
"I asked if SLED was being called and (Cpt. Hilton) replied 'no, I checked and we're working it,'" Howell wrote.
A SLED spokesman told On Your Side Investigates state investigators did not look into the deputy-involved shooting because the sheriff's office told them it was an accidental discharge.
An application for a search warrant submitted by investigators just two hours after the shooting also refers to the incident as an accidental shooting.
"It wasn't an accidental shooting," the whistleblower—who requested his identity be concealed for fear of retaliation for speaking out. "It was miscommunication between the officer that was talking to the suspect and the officer that fired the shot. Something that should have never happened."
In an interview with On Your Side Investigates, an attorney for the Sheriff's Office, Doug Barfield, said the shooting was initially ruled to be an accident by investigators but was later determined to be intentional. Barfield said investigators did not interview deputy who fired her weapon at the scene; narratives written by deputies on the night of the incident suggest otherwise.
Eventually, Barfield said, a captain's review board determined the shooting was, in fact, intentional and that Fayall did not violate any department policies.
Still, Barfield conceded, the incident report was never updated to correct the initial assertion that the shooting was an accident.
"We determined that it was an intentional discharge the very next morning when all the parties were brought in and interviewed," Barfield said. "There is no supplement in the file that I gave you in the case number that you requested which indicates it was in intentional discharge."
Barfield said his office did not make any details of the shooting public prior to our request for the incident report because the law does not require a law enforcement agency to notify the public of a deputy-involved shooting.
"We certainly do not not make available records that we are required to make available," he said.
Even still, Barfield argued that his office had been transparent with the public.
But the whistleblower, who worked inside the department at the time of the shooting, said senior leadership worked to keep this incident from the public.
"It wasn't something that was talked about," the whistleblower said. "When anybody asks about stuff like this, they'll usually get a whole lot of I-don't-knows from sergeants and above."