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Chester PD Addresses McCree Shooting Incident

Scott Morgan
South Carolina Public Radio

On Tuesday, Chester Police Chief Eric Williams held a press conference regarding the killing of 28-year-old Ariane McCree by a city police officer last fall.

Williams said the press conference was an effort to be fully transparent in an incident that has dogged the department since November. Hear the full press conference below.

Hear Part 2 of the press conference. A production of South Carolina Public Radio.

McCree's case has generated ongoing questions and renewed interest amid the international conversation on police conduct and racial justice. The case has made national news given its main facts -- McCree was black and was handcuffed behind his back when he was shot. He was also armed, as video evidence shows.

McCree, a former high school and college football player, was arrested at the city’s Walmart store after police say he stole an item and then came back to the store later that same morning.

An investigation by SLED and the state Attorney General’s Office concluded the following:

  • McCree was cuffed behind his back, but head-butted the arresting officer, then ran
  • The officer caught McCree, but McCree rammed the officer a second time
  • McCree ran to his car
  • At his car, McCree retrieved a pistol.

Silent bodycam footage released last week and published by the Chester News & Reporter shows an officer’s outstretched arms and McCree walking toward him with an object in his hand. Several shots are fired at McCree, who falls. The officer pulls a pistol from McCree, searches him, and then applies pressure to the chest wounds. McCree died soon after the shooting.

According to Chester police, the pistol retrieved from McCree belonged to him. Williams confirmed that McCree’s gun had not been fired. Shots were only fired by two city officers, Sgt. Justin Baker (who fatally shot McCree) and Sgt. Nicholas Harris (the original arresting officer, seen in the bodycam video carrying a department-issued AR-15 after Williams said he ran out of ammunition in his service pistol).

Family members and area civil rights groups have questioned from the beginning how a handcuffed man could pull a firearm. Chief Williams, who at 6-feet-two-inches and weighing about 250 pounds – much the same size as McCree – demonstrated at the press conference by being handcuffed at the request of Mayor Wanda Stringfellow. View that demonstration here.

Stringfellow is a cousin of McCree’s mother. She called into question whether officers on the scene followe department protocols. She has asked for the officers involved to be fired.

The family has also questioned what took the department so long to release the footage. Williams said it was out of respect for the grieving family; that he did not want to release publicly any footage that would disturb the family.

The family, Williams said, had accesses to the footage as early as March, when the Attorney General’s Office cleared the officers involved in the shooting. Two other officers, Lavar Richardson and Makeesharia Williams-Tobias, were also on the scene at the time of the shooting and were cleared.

Attorney General Alan Wilson has requested that the U.S. Department of Justice review the incident. Williams said he welcomes the investigation and is confident the DOJ will reach the same conclusions as he and state investigators did.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Williams walked reporters through the bodycam footage and answered questions about how well the officers involved followed protocols. He said the arresting officer, Harris, acted professionally and was “a victim” of assault by McCree. He said there is Walmart in-store footage that he and other investigators have seen.

A Walmart spokesman said the company does not release in-store videos to the public.

Harris was not wearing his bodycam at the time of the incident, in violation of the department’s operating procedures, Williams said. He said Harris has been reprimanded but declined to give details. The other officers were not reprimanded in the incident.

Williams said the department will expand its training for officers, including de-escalation training, though he averred that the McCree incident was not a situation in which de-escalation was possible.

The department plans to introduce the FATS firearm training simulator, which it will open to the public as a way to show how police officers deal with situations in real time, in early July.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.