Trial begins in 2005 shooting of Rose Hill police officer
By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on December 6, 2006 1:45 PM
What began as a domestic dispute -- an argument between a Duplin County boyfriend and girlfriend -- ended with the shooting of Rose Hill police Officer Mitchell Anderson on Sept. 10, 2005.
Anderson has since recovered, but on Tuesday, the trial of Tyrone Williams -- the suspect in that shooting -- began.
Williams, 32, is charged with five felony counts -- assault with a firearm on a law enforcement officer, larceny of a firearm, felonious possession of stolen property, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious harm and possession of a firearm by a felon.
The trial began with Williams, who had a history of disruptive behavior during pretrial proceedings, refusing to give the court assurances that he would behave. Because he would not provide such assurances, Judge Jay D. Hockenbury had him removed from the courtroom for the opening arguments.
Before the state began presenting its case, however, Williams decided he wanted to take part in his trial and was allowed back in the Duplin County Superior Court.
"My life is on the line and I feel like I should be here," Williams told the judge.
The case, Duplin County Assistant District Attorney Jamie Askins said in his opening argument, is simple.
Sometime between 10 and 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2005, Anderson -- the only Rose Hill police officer on duty -- responded to a domestic dispute call. Two people were arguing on the side of Pope Road near the Brice Store Road intersection.
The road is outside of Rose Hill, but is within the town's extraterritorial jurisdiction.
According to testimony from several witnesses -- including Tania Brown, Williams' girlfriend -- when Anderson arrived on the scene, Williams turned and ran while Anderson gave chase.
"I noticed a black female lying on the ground, and a black male standing over top of her," Anderson testified. "When he saw me he took off running. The black male looked at me and took off running.
"I didn't want him to get away. I felt he had assaulted the female, and I did not want him to get away."
Anderson did not remember when, or if, he identified himself as a police officer. He was in uniform and driving a marked car.
The pursuit, he continued, lasted several minutes, taking the pair past a house and into a dark, partially wooded area.
At some point during the chase, Anderson said, the suspect fell. When he got to his feet, he turned and ran at Anderson, who by this time was only a few steps away. He never actually got a clear look at Williams' face.
"We fell into the bushes and started struggling," Anderson said. "He was trying to get away from me. Basically my intentions were to subdue him.
"I told him to stop. He said, 'Let me go. Let me go.'"
At that point, Anderson continued, he told Williams he wasn't going to let him go and tried to reach for his can of mace.
Williams, however, broke the canister and according to Anderson's testimony, began trying to reach for his service pistol -- a .45 caliber handgun.
"I said, 'I can't let you go.' He said, 'Fine. I'm going for your gun then,'" Anderson said.
At this point, Williams was on top of Anderson, who was struggling to keep his gun in his holster.
"I told him not to go for my gun, it wasn't worth it," he said.
But Williams kept trying to pry Anderson's right hand away from his gun.
Finally, Anderson said, "I told him, 'Fine. If you go for my gun I'll kill you.'
"I was afraid for my life. This guy was a lot stronger than I. I could not overpower him. I've never had a person say they were going for my gun."
Anderson, 36, has worked as a law enforcement officer since 1998. He's been in Rose Hill since 2004.
As the pair continued to wrestle on the ground, Anderson said, there came a lull in their fighting as they caught their breath. When they did, Anderson testified that he took his hand off his gun -- but that he did not draw it.
Then, the next thing he knew, he had been shot.
"Basically I was looking up and I could see his silhouette. Then I saw the flash," he said. "I remember seeing part of the gun during the flash. I could actually see the top of the gun slide back.
"After the flash I was just like 'Oh my God. He shot me.' I looked up and saw the suspect running off."
Shot in the left shoulder with a hollow-point bullet, he was unable to give chase, he said. But he was able to call out "officer down" on his radio and stagger out of the woods where Magnolia police Officer Frank Moss quickly found him.
Later, Anderson underwent surgery to have the bullet removed from where it was lodged between his rib cage and left shoulder blade.
Before the judge recessed for the day, Anderson testified that the injury has left him with only a 12-percent disability in his left arm and that he returned to full-time duty in March.
Anderson was scheduled to continue his testimony at 9:30 a.m. today. When the judge recessed for the night Monday, he had not yet been cross-examined by defense attorney W.H. Paramore.
In his opening argument, though, Paramore did not dispute that Anderson responded to a domestic dispute call involving Williams and Ms. Brown. He also did not dispute that Williams ran and that when Anderson caught him, there was a physical altercation.
Instead, Paramore laid the groundwork to try to cast reasonable doubt into the jurors that Williams intentionally shot Anderson.
He noted that Anderson created a dangerous situation by pursuing a suspect, who could have been armed, into a dark area alone and without a flashlight. He noted that unless Anderson's gun was drawn or otherwise readied for quick access, it should have been secured in the three-level safety holster. He also noted that there is no evidence to suggest that Williams was trying to kill Anderson -- that the gunpowder residue on Anderson's shirt made it clear that Williams did not stand back and draw down with intent to kill.
"(Anderson) made a decision. He overreacted. He took off in an extremely dangerous situation," Paramore said. "How do we know and how will we really know what happened between these two men? What we have is a stray, random wing shot to the arm."
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