Man shot 9 times by South Carolina deputies files lawsuit alleging ‘reckless’ use of deadly force during wellness check | CNN


A South Carolina man, who survived being shot nine times by York County sheriff’s deputies responding to a “wellness check” call about him being suicidal two years ago, claims in a recent lawsuit that he was talking with his mother in his pickup truck when officers approached them “like cowboys from a John Wayne movie.”

Trevor Mullinax and his mother, Tammy Beason, allege that deputies immediately drew their weapons and used deadly force without trying to deescalate the situation and are suing York County and the sheriff’s department for gross negligence, among other claims.

The lawsuit, filed Friday and obtained by CNN, claims, “Sheriff’s deputies were grossly negligent, willful, wanton, careless, and reckless in their use of deadly force towards Plaintiff Mullinax and Plaintiff Beason, the same causing irreparable and permanent physical, mental, and emotional injury to Plaintiffs.”

Mullinax was charged with pointing and presenting a weapon – by the State Law Enforcement Division in relation to their investigation of the shooting. That charge is still pending.

However, attorneys for Mullinax said that while he was “lawfully in possession of a hunting shotgun” inside the truck, “at no point prior to, during, or after Sheriff’s deputies began shooting did Plaintiff Mullinax raise, point, or otherwise move with a weapon in such a fashion as would authorized Sheriff’s deputies to use deadly force.”

In several dash and body camera videos viewed by CNN, there is no mention of seeing a gun before deputies begin firing their weapons at Mullinax’s truck. However, body camera footage shows deputies after the shooting discussing seeing a “shotgun or rifle.” A deputy can be heard saying he found a weapon in the truck.

CNN obtained bodycam footage showing deputies with their guns drawn, surrounding the pickup truck, and demanding to see Mullinax’s hands before firing. The video also shows Beason standing beside the truck, speaking with her son through the driver’s side window. Attorneys for the family say officers fired nearly 50 shots at close range as he suffered a mental health crisis, claiming their client was contemplating suicide. Beason can be heard screaming and crying as she’s put into handcuffs by deputies. Attorneys for the family also accuse deputies of failing to render immediate medical aid to Mullinax.

The lawsuit notes that a shocked Beason “dove backward” to avoid the bullets that hit the vehicle.

Two years after the May 7, 2021, incident, both mother and son are suing for undetermined damages.

Justin Bamberg, an attorney for Mullinax, said during a news conference on Tuesday that Mullinax had been hit several times by bullets, including directly in the back of his head.

“Almost 50 shots fired at somebody who was in need of help. A citizen who was in need of help,” said Bamberg.

Mullinax, who was present at the news conference, acknowledged that the shooting was triggered by a mental health crisis.

“I can tell you that it’s hard to believe in the police when they destroyed everything I believe in that day,” Tammy Beason said during the news conference. “It’s taken me a very long time to recover from that. I’m still recovering.”

According to a recording of the 911 call, a friend of Mullinax had called emergency services with another friend on a three-way call to report Mullinax was having a mental health crisis and was potentially suicidal.

“We’re just trying to get our buddy some help,” the friend said. They told the dispatcher that they suspected the crisis was, in part, sparked by Mullinax’s belief there was a burglary warrant out for his arrest due to an incident the previous night.

The 911 caller explained to the dispatcher that Mullinax’s mother was out with him, and that their friend “had locked himself in his truck with a knife – and I say that because I don’t want him to hop out and get shot, I don’t know if that’s his plan.” The friends provided cell phone numbers for Mullinax and his mother so law enforcement could contact them.

However, the complaint alleges that the 911 dispatcher did not provide the responding deputies with the cellphone numbers she was given for Mullinax or his mother.

The filing said that when deputies arrived on scene, they found Mullinax’s grandfather at the house. Body camera video obtained by CNN shows the grandfather directing deputies to where he thought Mullinax could have been parked.

The 911 dispatcher relayed information to deputies about Mullinax being suicidal and the warrant, but deputies who arrived at the home seemed focused on the outstanding warrant based on comments recorded on body camera videos.

“He’s got to go to jail,” a deputy said to Mullinax’s grandfather.

As they approach the truck in the distance, a deputy can be heard in one dash camera video observing out loud that there is “somebody standing right beside” the truck and that Mullinax can be seen inside.

Body camera video shows deputies arriving, shouting “hands up” and “hands, hands” before opening fire on the truck, with Beason still standing there, all in less than 10 seconds time.

Tammy Beason, Mullinax's mother, on May 9, 2023.

Mullinax was life flighted to a hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina, for his injuries. Dashcam video shows it appears at least 14 minutes went by before aid for Mullinax was provided by emergency services. He was handcuffed and removed from the pickup truck after the shooting.

Deputies handcuffed Beason immediately after the shooting. She can be seen on body camera video hysterically crying while begging to see her son.

“I was trying to get him to go in, and he was talking to me finally. He was talking to me. Why did y’all come? I could have done this peacefully. I could have done this peacefully,” sobbed Beason to a deputy, who captured the interaction on his body camera.

In a news conference on Wednesday, York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said his agency had not been served with a lawsuit and that he felt “forced” to address the claims.

“I feel forced to address this suit out of what I consider to be the proper venue and that’s the court,” Tolson said. “I’ve never held a press conference about litigation, litigation that I haven’t even been served with yet.”

Tolson said that Mullinax had active arrest warrants through the York Police Department for a violent felony and malicious injury to personal property. Sheriff’s deputies’ claim that Mullinax pulled and pointed a weapon at them when they arrived following a request for a wellness check for Mullinax. He said all four deputies fired their weapons at Mullinax

“Four deputies approached an individual wanted for a violent felony who was armed with a knife and experiencing mental distress. As those deputies approached, this individual pulled a shotgun. Fearing for their safety, these deputies discharged their weapons at the individual,” said Tolson, who also claimed that Mullinax’s mother corroborated the deputies’ claims that her son grabbed a weapon when law enforcement arrived on scene.

An image taken from video released by the York County Sheriff's Office shows the scene moments before officers opened fire on Mullinax's truck with him inside and his mother, seen in red, standing beside it on May 7, 2021.

In response to that claim from the sheriff, attorneys for Mullinax and Beason told CNN “on the day of the shooting, Tammy Beason did tell SLED investigators that Trevor grabbed the shotgun but did so when he saw deputies driving down Highway 324, not as officers pulled right up to the front of his truck.”

Tolson also said the SLED investigation shows upon arriving at the hospital after being by deputies, Mullinax told medical personnel that he wanted to kill himself but then “decided to have the police do it.”

Tolson denounced criticism against police officers for their handling of situations “that should not be the responsibility of law enforcement” and said more mental health resources are needed.

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