CLOVER, S.C. -- The York County Sheriff's deputy who shot an unarmed North Carolina man in Clover Tuesday night thought the elderly military veteran was reaching for a long-barrel shotgun instead of his walking cane, officials said on Wednesday.
Deputy Terrance Knox, 24, has been placed on paid administrative leave until an investigation into the shooting incident on U.S. 321 north of Clover is resolved, said York County Sheriff's spokesman Trent Faris. Bobby Canipe, 70, was still in the hospital Wednesday evening in stable condition.
Around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Knox, who has been with the Sheriff's Office for about three years, stopped a white pickup truck with an expired license plate near Motseller Street, officials said. In the truck was Canipe, of Lincolnton, N.C., and a 74-year-old female passenger.
During the stop, Canipe got out of the truck and reached into the truck bed to pull what Knox perceived to be a long barrel weapon, Faris said.
"Deputy Knox was forced to make a split-second life or death decision and fired his weapon several times, striking Canipe once," he said.
Canipe was reaching for a walking cane.
Deputies on Wednesday maintain that Knox's actions were an "appropriate response." Knox has been placed on paid administrative leave and the State Law Enforcement Division is investigating the incident. They will report their findings to the 16th Circuit Solicitor's Office.
Once prosecutors receive the file, they will review the information gathered and evaluate whether any of the parties involved "violated the law," said 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett. If so, Brackett's office can file charges. If not, the investigation is closed. If there is key information missing, Brackett said he can also request that an investigation continue.
Faris called the shooting an "unfortunate" incident and said that deputies' "thoughts and prayers" were with both Canipe and Knox.
The information Faris provided on Wednesday afternoon was based on the dashboard camera video from the deputy's vehicle. Faris said deputies have turned the video over to SLED.
Two women who identified themselves as Canipe's nieces described him as a military veteran and a great person.
Although he's in stable condition, her uncle is in pain and was told doctors wouldn't be able to remove the bullet from his chest because it would be too dangerous, said Angelia Canipe.
Canipe's nieces said his family is upset and wants to know how this could have happened.
"If anyone knows our Uncle Bob, I see no threat," said Angelia Canipe. "I love my uncle and I just want the truth to be told."
When contacted on Wednesday afternoon, Carolyn McEntire, 74, who was with Canipe at the time of the incident, said the family wouldn't have any comment until they spoke with a lawyer.
What investigators will question in the shooting is whether Knox was reasonably justified in shooting Canipe, a process that is oftentimes subjective, said Dr. Candace McCoy, a professor and expert in police use of force at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
"It's what was going on in the mind of that officer," she said. "If you reasonably believe that this officer perceived danger, even though there was not danger, then the officer is not out of compliance." But, if the officer clearly broke the law, then criminal charges will be filed.
"When you really look into these circumstances and try to put yourself into the shoes of the officer, it's not easy," McCoy said. "It's often juries that have to sort it out."
Things investigators must consider include lighting on the highway, the time of the day the incident occurred, the angle and placement of the bullets Knox fired, the likelihood that the cane looked like a gun and the position of the cane in the car.
"If all you see is a long stick and the guy has his hand on it...it's not very clear," she said.
Traffic stops typically unnerve police officers because they are not "controlled situations," McCoy said.
"Whatever's going on inside that car, they can't see it," she said. "They get jumpy."
"There's not a typical traffic stop that couldn't turn into something much more," said Dr. Lorie Fridell, associate professor and graduate director at the University of South Florida's criminology department. "Officers are often vigilant on these traffic stops if they're alone, if it's at night. Something that seems simple to you or to me might in fact be a dangerous situation."
In 1992, York County Sheriff's deputy Brent McCants, 23, was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop on Dave Lyle Boulevard by two men who stole a car in Charlotte.
"We send them (officers) out everyday and ask them to make decisions. And, if they make the wrong decision in one direction, they're facing criminal charges," Fridell said. "If they face the wrong decision in the other direction, they could be dead."
"It's incredibly tragic for everyone involved, certainly for the man, the family, the officer," Fridell added. "But, we don't ask officers to make perfect decisions; we ask them to make reasonable decisions."
Copyright 2014 - The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.)
McClatchy-Tribune News Service