NC car chase leads to officer-involved shooting in SC, body cameras not worn

NC car chase leads to officer-involved shooting in SC, body cameras not worn
A car chase that started in Union County led to an officer-involved shooting in Lancaster County. (Source: Anne Marie Hagerty)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A car chase that started in Union County led to an officer-involved shooting in Lancaster County Saturday afternoon.

The Union County Sheriff’s Office says the situation began with a burglary off of Plyler Mill Road, just south of Monroe.

The person who called to report the burglary identified the suspect as 31-year-old Joshua Robert Thomas, who was traveling in a white Chevrolet Tahoe. Deputies spotted the suspect vehicle a short time later traveling on Plyler Mill Road, going through a yard and maneuvering around a patrol car.

Deputies say Thomas fled into Lancaster, SC, damaging property along the way and failing to stop for blue lights and sirens.

Deputies stopped behind the suspect vehicle and pleaded with Thomas to comply.

“During the nearly five minute verbal exchange with Deputy Martinez pleading with Thomas to comply, Thomas told the deputies, ‘You’re going to have to shoot me,’ and reached behind his back several times,” deputies say.

As Thomas reached into the back seat of his Tahoe, Martinez feared Thomas was reaching for a gun and fired several shots, deputies say. A taser was also deployed, Thomas was handcuffed and first aid was rendered, deputies say.

EMS arrived and took Thomas to Atrium Union with a gunshot wound to the left shoulder and the left ear. “Neither of these injuries were life threatening,” deputies say.

The encounter between the deputy and suspect is an important thing to review in the investigation, but there is no body camera footage in this case.

That is because Union County deputies do not wear body cameras -- they use patrol car cameras instead.

“We don’t have body camera but we have in car camera which we believe are much better,” said Tony Underwood with the Union County Sheriffs Office.

The dash cams record 24/7 whatever is in front of the car and when flashing lights are turned on it automatically sends footage back up a server for storage.

But Union County NAACP President Nathel Hailey questions what happens when the car is not around.

“Dash cameras doesn’t show the whole picture,” said Hailey. “It’s good for a roadside stop but when you have to go behind the house there is nothing to show what actually happens.”

UCSO says that officers are always wearing a microphone so audio is still recorded when deputies leave sight of the camera in their car.

NC Sheriff’s Association tells WBTV the counties in North Carolina with vs. without body cams close to evenly split, though they do not have an exact count of the number of counties that use body cameras.

“A lot of agencies have one or the other, I don’t know of many that have both,” said Underwood.

In Union County body cameras have been tested.

“The technology hasn’t been there where we’ve wanted it to be. We’ve tested them but we haven’t been comfortable with the performance vs what we get from the in car cameras,” said Underwood.

“We wish he would reconsider his opinion of body cameras and purchase some," said Hailey. "It would not only protect them but the citizens too.”

“We are interested in continuing to pursue that, that’ll be up to the sheriff, but for now we have full faith and confidence in our in car cameras,” said Underwood.

South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is continuing to investigate. Charges against Thomas are forthcoming. WBTV has requested a copy of the dash cam footage from the shooting incident.

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