It took less than two seconds for Bryant Heyward to end up with the gunshot wound that sent him to intensive care.
Heyward called 911 last Thursday to report that intruders were breaking into his mother’s home. But when Charleston County, South Carolina, sheriff’s deputy Keith Tyner arrived on the scene and saw Heyward exiting the back door, the officer mistook him for the suspect. Tyner fired his weapon twice, hitting Heyward in the neck.
Dashcam video released on Monday revealed that Heyward had only an instant to drop the .40-caliber handgun he was holding when Tyner confronted him. According to the audio, the officer ordered Heyward to "show me your hands" twice, but discharged his weapon before finishing the phrase a second time. The Charleston Post and Courier clocks the elapsed time at just 1.1 seconds.
"I should have put the gun down, but I didn't," Heyward reportedly told an investigator inside the ambulance. "He thought I was the crook and shot."
At a press conference last Friday, Justin Bamberg, a lawyer representing Heyward’s family, said that Tyner did not adequately identify the person he saw before firing his gun and that Heyward wouldn't even have had time to make any threatening moves with his weapon. A police report filed after the incident also suggests that Heyward did not raise his weapon toward officers.
Tyner is white, and Heyward is black.
The time between Tyner's order and his gunshot could prove critical in whether the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, which is looking into the incident, rules that the shooting was justified.
Both the sight of threatening movements and solid identification of the suspect are pertinent to an officer’s decision to fire a weapon, according to a Northeast Ohio Media Group analysis, published after the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old with a toy handgun:
When approaching someone who's either holding a gun or indicating that they have one, police are trained to first take cover at a safe distance and create a barrier between themselves and the other person. This usually means ducking behind the police cruiser or a building.
Next, officers should draw their weapons and command the suspect to drop their gun and get on the ground. The dialogue that happens between an officer and the suspect is what some experts call the most important aspect of police work. ... If the suspect doesn't follow orders and makes a threatening movement, that's when an officer must make a split-second decision whether to fire.
The story also pointed out that, when possible, officers are supposed to inform the suspect that they intend to shoot if the suspect continues to present a threat.
Judging from the dashcam audio, Tyner didn’t explicitly warn Heyward of his intention to shoot or, indeed, allow time for any actual dialogue.
But the initial mistake of confusing the victim with the culprit -- an error that led to the subsequent shooting -- appears to be the most disturbing part of this case for the family’s attorneys.
"We have no issue with officers protecting themselves and others when they have their lives endangered," Chris Stewart, another lawyer for the Heyward family, told NBC. "But to not take the time to make sure you're not shooting the person that called you is a concern."