Sharpshooter across street from Charleston restaurant shot gunman to end hostage situation, attorney says
With one man already dead and another being held hostage in a Charleston restaurant, a police sharpshooter across the street fired a single bullet, ending a face-off that had terrified lunchtime diners hours earlier, an attorney said.
Described as a disgruntled worker, Thomas Demetrius Burns stormed into Virginia’s On King and shot its executive chef before taking hostages during Thursday’s lunch hour, officials said.
He holed up on the second floor with officers below him. But a SWAT team sniper, set up in a different building and taking orders from police commanders, shot him about two hours into the ordeal.
Chef Shane Whiddon, 37, had been slain earlier in the afternoon. The standoff’s abrupt conclusion critically wounded Burns, 53.
But no one else was hurt.
″(The officer) positively identified the suspect, and when the opportunity arose, he suppressed the threat,” the policeman’s attorney, Andy Savage, said. “The gunman had already killed someone, and he was holding somebody hostage.”
Savage’s account offered a clearer picture of the tactical effort. Officials had indicated that officers had confronted the gunman, who was considered an “active shooter,” but they refused to provide details.
Police spokesman Charles Francis deferred questions this week to the State Law Enforcement Division, the agency tasked with investigating the case. SLED spokeswoman Kathryn Richardson said she would confirm only that an officer’s bullet ended the standoff.
Specialized weaponry is a key component of SWAT teams, but its use is infrequent compared with firepower commonly carried by patrol officers. In April 2001, a sheriff’s sharpshooter killed a Goose Creek-area man holding his infant daughter hostage. Negotiators had coaxed John Pelaccio onto a porch, but he held his daughter’s baby carrier in one hand and a knife in the other. The Charleston County SWAT team member shot him in the back.
The law generally allows deadly force to be used against perpetrators of hostage crises.
“When (a SWAT team) is not really in a position to go into a place quickly enough or can’t see what’s going on, bad things have happened,” Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon said. “That’s an option you want to have.”
Matthew Lawcock was identified as the five-year Charleston Police Department veteran who shot Burns.
Burns, a felon with a violent past, is expected to face a murder charge. A Medical University Hospital spokesman said Tuesday he had no update on Burns’ condition.
Virginia’s remained closed Tuesday.
Burns had been fired as a dishwasher at the King Street restaurant, workers have said.
A day later, he barged into the first-floor dining room about 12:15 p.m. He clutched a revolver. He locked the front door and ordered about 30 customers to get down, then to move to the back. Most escaped through side doors.
But some people were still inside, and Whiddon was shot.
Dozens of police officers converged on the popular downtown area. When they got to the restaurant and broke the glass door to get inside, Interim Police Chief Jerome Taylor said, they found Whiddon lying wounded. Whiddon and some survivors were taken out.
Burns went upstairs. At least one other person was still inside.
Negotiators got in touch with Burns, the chief said.
SWAT team snipers, meanwhile, took high positions. Workers at a hotel construction site reported that marksmen scaled the scaffolding across Hutson Street from the restaurant.
Lawcock had been sent a picture of Burns, helping the officer confirm his target’s identity, his lawyer said.
A bang rang out about 2:30 p.m. The police chief would say it “may have been a percussion grenade,” a device commonly used when SWAT teams burst into homes. But Lawcock was not using a sound-suppression device on his rifle when he fired, Savage said, meaning his shot would have been heard by many nearby.
“Nobody could really see (the sharpshooter),” Savage said. “He took a distant shot.”
Savage and the police would not say exactly where the sharpshooter and Burns were positioned when the shot was fired. The authorities have not said where the bullet struck Burns.
The location of the hostage at the time also was not clear. A city statement said only that one person was escorted away unharmed after the standoff.
Within minutes, paramedics wheeled a gurney into the restaurant and soon emerged with Burns strapped to it.
“Shooting a human is not something (the officer) would like to do,” Savage said. “But it’s part of his job.”
Later that day, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg hailed law enforcement.
“These brave men and women ... did an incredible job,” he said. “They’re there to protect our community and our citizens.”