Video released in OIS of SC man who started standoff with cops
Footage shows officers trying to de-escalate the situation before the suspect raised a gun
By Teddy Kulmala
LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC — The man deputies shot dead after a chase and standoff on Interstate 26 in March was involved in another chase months earlier, after which he told a family member “he was going to make the police shoot him” if he was pulled over again, according to a recently-released investigative report.
Robert B. Shaw, 29, was killed in a burst of gunshots on March 28, ending a standoff that shut down I-26 for hours and was punctuated by deployments of flash bangs, tear gas and whimpers from a puppy inside the truck, according to records from the State Law Enforcement Division obtained through an open-records request. SLED investigated the shooting at the request of the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department and has closed the investigation.
The report shows that Shaw was shot after eventually raising a gun toward officers.
Months before the deadly shooting, Shaw was involved in another police pursuit and, after getting out of jail, said “he was going to make the police shoot him” if he was ever pulled over again, according to Nelda Reaves, a family friend who spoke with investigators at the hospital after Shaw died.
“He did this on purpose and I believe it was suicide by cop,” Reaves told investigators, according to the report. Reaves said Shaw had dated her sister for about eight years, and that she thought of Shaw as a brother even though they weren’t related.
Toxicology testing showed that Shaw’s blood contained methamphetamine, amphetamine and Alprazolam when he died, according to the SLED report. Alprazolam also is known as Xanax and is used to treat panic and anxiety disorders, according to WebMD.
No charges were filed against the officers involved.
“After we reviewed all of the facts and evidence in this case, we determined that law enforcement used lawful force,” said Robert Kittle, spokesman for the S.C. Attorney General’s Office, which reviewed the case at the request of the 11th Circuit Solicitor’s Office.
All the officers involved were placed on administrative leave after the shooting but have since returned to their normal duties, said Capt. Adam Myrick, spokesman for the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department. The department declined to comment beyond the final SLED report and the statement from the Attorney General’s Office.
The series of events began when a Lexington County deputy tried to stop a Chevrolet S-10 pickup on Pine Plain Road the morning of March 28, SLED agents wrote in the report.
The driver of the pickup, later identified as Shaw, matched that description but did not stop for the deputy, the report states. Agents wrote that the suspect who fled from the state trooper was later determined to be another man, not Shaw.
The chase went through Richland and Lexington counties, eventually ending when the pickup crashed in the eastbound lanes of I-26 near mile marker 114 after officers used stop sticks, rolling road blocks and pursuit intervention techniques, also known as PIT maneuvers. Deputies told SLED agents that right after the crash, they saw Shaw in the pickup’s cab, holding a gun to his head.
Officers told Shaw to put the gun down, and Deputy John Gietz tried to negotiate with Shaw, according to the report.
“One of the first comments Shaw made to Dep. Gietz, without provocation, was ‘I’m not going back to jail,’ ” the report states.
SWAT officers were called to the scene, and Shaw requested to speak with Capt. John Norman of the West Columbia Police Department, according to the report.
Negotiators tried to get Shaw to either throw the gun out the window or place it on the roof of the truck, but each time “he would have a different excuse as to why he would not be able to do it,” the deputies told agents.
Gietz told SLED agents Shaw agreed to roll down the truck’s window halfway but still refused to put down his gun and said “he didn’t know if he was going to kill himself or not.”
Shaw was given a cellphone, which Gietz and Norman used to negotiate with him, according to the report.
In a recording of the 911 call provided by SLED, Norman tries for more than 30 minutes to get Shaw to put the gun in his lap or drop it out of the window.
“I know it’s over. I messed up,” Shaw says.
“Billy, it’s not over,” Norman tells him. “When you were a juvenile, you thought it was over. When you was an adult and turned 17, you thought it was over. When you went back, you thought it was over. It’s not over, man. This is a car chase. This is today, that’s all this is. Tomorrow’s gonna be a better today, the day after that’s gonna be better, the day after that’s gonna be better.”
Later on in the recording, Shaw tells Norman: “I’m scared. I’m scared.”
“I know you’re scared, Billy. I know you’re scared,” Norman said. “How am I supposed to tell your mama that anything bad happened to you? Because we’re not gonna let that happen. I need to you help me with that.”
Suspect had a puppy
A puppy is heard whimpering in the background, and Shaw tells Norman he has a 6-week-old puppy in the truck. Shaw at one point offers to give Norman the puppy instead of the gun in exchange for being able to call his girlfriend.
At one point, Norman tells Shaw that an ambulance transporting a pregnant woman to the hospital has to pass the scene to get to the next exit.
Norman hands to phone to Gietz, who takes over negotiations.
“I don’t want to go through watching anything bad happen to you,” the deputy says. “I want this all to come out peacefully, and tomorrow we start working on a good plan to make this better.”
The pleas for Shaw to get rid of the gun continue for more than an hour. As the puppy continued whimpering in the background, Shaw told Gietz he didn’t think he could get out of jail because of the bench warrants in his name.
“Right now, we’re making a big deal about something that — we can get past this,” Gietz says. “Let’s just get it rolling. Hell, you might be able to make afternoon bond court and be out (of jail) tonight. ... You’re looking at small potatoes right now.”
Nearly two hours into the phone call, Gietz tells Shaw that the heat and traffic situation are becoming hazardous for the motorists backed up for miles in both directions.
“It has got to happen now,” Gietz said. “Interstate 26 is blocked up both ways and there’s ambulances that can’t get through and get people to the hospital. ... The interstate is so congested that nobody can get through, so that gun has got to go out the window now.”
‘We’re running out of time’
About two hours into the phone call, Gietz’s tone grows more urgent.
“We’re running out of time,” Gietz said after one of the tear gas canisters was deployed. “... Toss the gun out the window, because you are risking people’s lives right now. There are moms, there are kids, there are children that can’t get to the hospital because you have the interstate blocked. You own that, Billy.”
Lexington County’s chief deputy decided to escalate force to “peacefully resolve the situation,” deploying two flash bangs outside the truck and two rounds of tear gas into the vehicle when Shaw didn’t follow directions to get rid of the gun, according to the report. The devices had little effect on Shaw.
As the situation escalated, Shaw said in the phone call that he didn’t want to die. He sounds willing to throw the gun out, but the call eventually ends with deputies shouting instructions for Shaw to drop the gun, all of them going unanswered.
A three-man team — deputies Nicholas McMillin, Alex Mountzouros and Nicholas Uveges — was assembled to approach the truck with weapons, according to the investigative report.
The deputies told SLED agents that as they got within a foot of the pickup, they saw Shaw reach toward his lap with his left hand and pull up the revolver. Each officer said he feared for his life and fired as they backed away from the truck.
Uveges said he saw the barrel of the gun pointed at him, according to the report.
Nine .40-caliber casings at the scene were fired by Mountzouros’ gun, and four .40-caliber casings were fired by McMillin’s gun, agents wrote. Three .223 Remington caliber cartridge cases were fired from Uveges’ rifle.
Shaw had gunshot wounds to the right abdominal area, right hip, right elbow and chest, according to the report. An autopsy showed he died of blood loss from “laceration of organs and blood vessels due to gunshot wounds of the abdomen.”
The revolver Shaw had was not in working order because the hammer was broken and a large portion of it was missing, the report states. Agents also noted that because of the environment where the shooting happened, not all of the shell casings believed to be fired by the officers could be located.
There was no record of any of the three deputies being associated with a prior officer-involved shooting in SLED’s records system.