Bubbles and blood poured from the dead mans chest. Smoke plumed from the barrel of Pat Kiefers shotgun.
Gunshots pierced the air. Fire burned in the background. Kiefer dry-heaved for at least 10 minutes. His life had just changed.
On April 21, 2002 a Sunday he killed a man.
There was no malice or forethought, legally required to prove murder. There was no criminal negligence or reckless disregard for anothers safety, needed to prove involuntary manslaughter. There was necessity. There was survival. There was home or a casket.
If youve never stood in our shoes, you have no idea you have no idea, said Kiefer, then a lieutenant with the York County Sheriffs Office.
Terrance Knox now has an idea.
On Feb. 25, the York County deputy shot Bobby Canipe, 70, as he reached for a cane in the bed of his Ford pickup during a traffic stop on U.S. 321 outside Clover.
A day after the shooting, which left Canipe hospitalized with a gunshot wound to his chest, the Sheriffs Office called Knoxs actions appropriate. Two weeks later, they released dashboard camera video of the incident. Knox fired about six shots. One hit Canipe. Once Knox saw the cane, he began to sob.
Knox has been placed on administrative leave pending the completion of an investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division, which investigates all officer-involved shootings. Once SLED finishes its investigation, agents will hand the case file to the 16th Circuit Solicitors Office, which will decide whether charges will be filed.
Use-of-force policies allow officers to shoot suspects if they deem there is an imminent and credible threat to their life or safety.
It is all up to what Deputy Knox perceived, said Kiefer, now the chief investigator with the York County Public Defenders Office who works with the S.C. Law Enforcement Assistance Program peer team. It was all as to how he perceived the scene.
I cant speak for him ... I cant say a word for him; I was not in his shoes, I was not standing there. Nobody can tell you how they would have done it, because you dont know. You werent there. A threat is a threat, regardless of how you look at it.
April 21, 2002
The call came into the sheriffs office as a house fire on Flintlock Drive. Gregory Allan Seymour, 41, was holding firefighters at gunpoint.
As soon as they gave the address out, Kiefer said, I knew exactly where it was because we had been out there twice before that weekend. It was a domestic situation.
In those earlier visits, Seymour had wanted to kick his wife out of the house. Deputies explained to him, twice, that they could not forcibly remove her because she lived there. He would have to take his complaint to civil court. He wasnt satisfied.
So on April 21, 2002, Seymour set his house ablaze. Long-barreled weapon in hand, Seymour threatened to shoot firefighters if they tried to put out the flames. His wife and three children were nowhere in sight.
First thing that came to my mind, Kiefer said, because we had been out there all weekend, was that he killed his family and put them in the fire and burned the house.
When Kiefer arrived on the scene, he saw Seymour standing in the middle of the road in front of his house. He was holding the gun and a bowie knife. Kiefer clutched his shotgun. He walked to meet Seymour, who by this time was sitting on the side of a hill, drinking a beer. Kiefer tried to start a conversation.
It was like talking to a wall, he said. He just didnt respond at all. I just kept yelling stuff to him: You want to talk? You want to talk about it? Is there something going on?
More deputies arrived, huddling around Kiefers car, parked in the center of the road. A hostage negotiator began speaking with Seymour. The man was unyielding.
It just seemed like it was going from bad to worse, Kiefer said. The whole situation just seemed like it was getting worse by the minute.
The SWAT team was on its way, in case a chase ensued. As the hostage negotiator tried to convince Seymour to put down his weapons, Seymour walked to the middle of the road. The negotiator told him, You dont have to end it this way.
I remember him kind of glaring at us, just looking right at us and saying, Well, somebodys going to end it, Kiefer said.
Seymour began yelling all kinds of gibberish, Kiefer said. Then he started walking back toward his house. He grabbed gas cans and tossed them into the inferno. Kiefer drove his car toward the house and got out, standing behind his patrol car as cover. He laid his shotgun across the hood. Other deputies took cover, following Seymour back to his yard.
Seymour walked back toward the front of Kiefers car. Kiefer yelled over and over that he needed to drop his weapons. Seymour looked to his right, then to his left. He took a step toward Kiefer and raised his gun to his shoulder.
Kiefer didnt hesitate.
I pulled a round shot him dead center in the chest, he said. He didnt fall down.
Kiefer racked his shotgun again. This time, he would aim for the head, but he didnt get the chance. Other deputies fired at Seymour. Still, Kiefer knows his was the fatal shot.
Seymour fell over backward. Kiefer shouted for other deputies to cover him as he ran to Seymour, stepped on his arm, brushed the gun out of his hand and got the knife away from him. There was a hole in his chest. It gashed blood and red ... air bubbles, Kiefer said.
And that was it.
A detective took Kiefers service weapons. An investigation began.
I just got this massive sick feeling that came over me, just unbelievable, Kiefer said. He ran behind an ambulance and dry-heaved for 10 to 15 minutes. Once it was over, he gave a statement to investigators. He didnt make it home until after midnight.
The next several days were a blur, spent mostly in a state of numbness, Kiefer said.
Theres all kinds of emotions that run through your mind, he said. You replay it over and over in your head. You think about it all day long. Youre always second-guessing what you shouldve done.
Kiefer avoided reading or watching the news. His phone rang and rang.
You have a lot of people call you on the phone and say, Hey man, tell me what happened, Kiefer said. Theres only certain people you really want to talk to.
He was out of work for two months before SLED investigators cleared him of wrongdoing.
I felt that I had done everything I could have possibly done; I felt that his actions warranted what I had done, Kiefer said. His reactions caused me to do what I did.
Those reactions place officers in vulnerable positions, he said, where they must make split-second decisions and live with the consequences.
Police officers love to be in control because it makes you feel safer, Kiefer said. But that one second when youre out of control, and youve got to make a decision that you normally probably wouldnt do on an everyday basis will unsettle you like youve never seen.
It almost destroyed us
Pat and Sharon Kiefer had been married for just more than a year when he killed Seymour. The trauma of an officer-involved shooting, Sharon Kiefer said, brings trouble into the family.
Theres no manual that comes with marrying a police officer, she said, nothing to guide you and say, OK, if your husband or your wife ... is involved in an incident where they had to take another life, how are you supposed to respond to your spouse when they come home? What are you supposed to say?
Theres nothing that prepares you for that.
The key: You have to understand, she said. You have to communicate.
For the Kiefers, that proved to be a challenge.
Pat Kiefer went into protect mode with his wife and daughter. Sharon Kiefer went into protect mode to shield her husband from negative comments and media coverage.
In protecting each other so much, we clashed, Sharon Kiefer said. Youre not communicating with each other, and thats where a lot of the breakdown comes. If youve got a strong marriage and this happens, it could still break it.
It almost wrecked our marriage, Pat Kiefer said. It almost destroyed us. The whole thing did. Had it not been for the help that we got through (the S.C. Law Enforcement Assistance Program), I dont know where we would have gone with it. I really dont.
Together, they attended counseling sessions. They learned to speak with each other about the situation, not at each other. They learned they were both angry.
Pat Kiefer was enraged after he learned Seymour had been wielding a pellet gun, not a rifle.
This guy had made me kill him over a pellet gun, Kiefer said. And I think thats what really enraged me the most. He knew. He knew that gun wasnt real.
Investigators later found a six-page suicide note Seymour left in his mailbox. In it, he described how he planned to burn himself to death in the house.
I guess he chickened out and caused us to do it, Kiefer said.
Sharon Kiefer admits shes still angry with Seymour.
I was so mad at him for making Pat make that decision ... and for Pat to be put in that position that he might not have come home that night, she said. He never should have been forced to make that decision.
That fatal decision has created for the Kiefers what Sharon Kiefer calls a new normal.
When Pat left to go to work that night ... Pat was Pat, she said. When Pat came home that Monday morning, Pat was a different Pat. Your life as it was when your spouse left to go to work is not the same life its going to be when they come home.
Police officers are not trained to kill, but they are trained to shoot a suspect if necessary in the head or center of a targets body, said David Klinger, an associate professor and police use-of-force expert at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Obviously, shots to those areas are going to have a greater likelihood of causing death, he said. Officers arent trained to shoot to kill. Theyre trained to shoot to stop. The goal is to stop the threat, whatever that is the guys got a gun, the guys got a knife.
Officers are trained when theres a threat that warrants the use of deadly force, you shoot until the threat is gone. If it takes one round and the person stops, then you stop. If it takes multiple rounds, you fire as many rounds as you need to fire to stop the threat.
Theres an emotional drawback that comes with pulling the trigger. Klinger has spoken with officers who display a gamut of reactions.
Some officers even have a neutral response, he said, like, Oh crap, this is bad, and then they move on.
For officers who shoot someone who, in the end, never meant any harm, its a question of self-identity, Klinger said. They say, Im supposed to be a professional, then I made this mistake. Its an issue of simple humanity ... that theyve harmed someone who didnt need to be harmed.
Officers never expect to have to shoot a suspect, Kiefer said.
But once it does, it changes your whole life forever, he said. My life, my outlook on law enforcement, and the way I did my job when I came back was all different. I was more aware of things; I was more vigilant.
I didnt take anything for granted, but I also found out I really have more of a passion for people, too.
Three months after he killed Seymour, Kiefer attended a seminar hosted by the S.C. Law Enforcement Assistance Program, whose members are on call around the clock, available to go to counties where officers are involved in critical situations and offer support to them and their families. He later joined as a peer member.
Whenever theres an officer-involved shooting, Kiefer travels to the incident location and speaks with the officers. He walks them through what they can expect mentally and emotionally in the aftermath of a tragic incident.
He debriefs them. He ensures the officers arent suffering any immediate traumatic stress thats going to be a cause for alarm. He explains to them that sickness, insomnia and regret are normal. Some, he said, just need a listening ear.
Each individual is going to react differently to a critical incident, he said. The most important thing is not to hide your emotions. ... Youve got to have some way to let them out.
Its something I would say, kind of like my belief in God, this was something that was supposed to happen to me, and Im supposed to take it and help other people.
One of those people is Terrance Knox.
Hes got a long road ahead of him, Kiefer said. Hes going to have to get back on the firing range. Hes got some things that the department will require him to do, make sure hes fit for duty. I think hes going to be fine.
Jonathan McFadden • 803-329-4082