COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A man is suing a sheriff's office in South Carolina saying deputies shot at him nearly 50 times when he was having a mental health crisis in a parked truck with a shotgun in his lap, even though he says his hands were raised.
Trevor Mullinax survived being hit nine times in May 2021, with three wounds to the head, according to the lawsuit filed against the York County Sheriff’s Office earlier this month.
The four sheriff's deputies started shooting only a few seconds after arriving on the scene and yelling “Hands!” several times, as seen in police dash cam video released by Mullinax's lawyers. The barrage lasted all of five seconds, leaving the pickup windshield riddled with bullet holes.
“Those officer went out there like John Wayne cowboys. They came out there like gunslingers,” attorney Justin Bamberg said at a news conference Tuesday.
Prosecutors reviewing the case did not charge the four deputies who shot at Mullinax. Each officer gave a statement to investigators 11 days after the shooting and after reviewing body camera and other footage.
The officers said in those seconds they thought Mullinax was getting ready to flee, then they saw him reach back to the truck’s rear seat, grab the shotgun and point it at them, according to the State Law Enforcement Division report on the shooting.
Mullinax's mother, Tammy Beason, said she'd been trying to comfort her son after he threatened to kill himself. She was standing by the driver's-side window when the officers opened fire.
She wasn't wounded. But deputies handcuffed her, wailing and clearly distraught, less than a minute after the shooting. Two deputies hustled her away as she cries, “What are they going to do with my son?”
The video begins with the deputies driving up to Mullinax's truck parked on his family's land near Rock Hill on May 7, 2021. A family member had called 911 because Mullinax was threatening to kill himself. He said “We're just trying to get our buddy some help,” and gave the operator the cellphone numbers for him and his mother, according to the 911 call.
The deputies never called either of them, driving to the truck after Mullinax's grandfather told them where it was located, Bamberg said.
There were 47 shots fired. The video shows two deputies pull a bleeding Mullinax out of the truck and handcuff him.
“You’re not a death squad. You’re supposed to try to help people, even if you’ve got to shoot them,” Bamberg said. “They handcuff this man with three bullet holes in his head and then they handcuff his mama. Treat her like a criminal. This was disgusting.”
Mullinax's mother told investigators hours after the shooting it appeared her son might be reaching for a gun.
According to medical records obtained by state investigators, Mullinax told a doctor at the hospital he was talking to his mother about getting help when officers arrived, and when they arrived suddenly, he reached for the gun so they would shoot him because he didn’t have the courage to do it himself. He said couldn’t say why he changed his mind from seeking help to wanting to die.
Mullinax was the only person charged in the 2021 shooting and faces one count of pointing and presenting a firearm, a felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. At the time of the shooting, Mullinax had a warrant for his arrest on a different charge, but his lawyers said that burglary charge was dismissed and there are no court records of it.
Mullinax couldn't have a gun legally because he was a felon, York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said at a news conference Wednesday where he took no questions.
“If a suspect pulls a weapon on a man or woman wearing a badge that says York County Sheriff's Office, that situation is not going to end well,” Tolson said.
Police officers shouldn't have to handle people in mental crisis or the other duties piled on them daily, and shouldn't be second guessed after they are cleared by investigators, the sheriff said.
“For those of you who are out there making snap judgements about the actions of police officers, hiding behind a computer screen with your thumb courage on Facebook, Instagram — the York County Sheriff's Office is hiring deputies every day. Please put in an application so you can see firsthand what a police officer faces,” Tolson said.
Mullinax's mother said it was hours before anyone told her that her son survived the shooting. She says she no longer trusts the police and flinches every time she sees a police cruiser.
“I wonder if that's the one who almost killed me that day. Or that’s the one who tried to kill my son that day,” Beason said.
Mullinax said he hates what his mental crisis turned into.
“But if it helps one single person in this world to not have to go through what me and my family have, I’m OK with it,” he said.