After North Charleston Patrolman David Winslette yelled over his police radio, "Help ... I've been shot," he relayed a basic description of his assailant and where the gunman was heading.
The shooter was a black man with a goatee and dreadlocks. He carried a black semiautomatic pistol as he ran from the El Cheapo gas station down Dorchester Road and under the Interstate 26 overpass. In less than an hour, detectives acquired surveillance images of the gunman and distributed printouts to officers.
But it wasn't until eight hours after the 3 a.m. shooting when police officials publicly confirmed that an officer had been shot and the gunman was still on the loose. A spokesman for North Charleston Police Department said officials waited until "we were able to get specific, accurate information."
Legislation approved recently by the S.C. Legislature would create a "Blue Alert" system to inform police agencies and residents more promptly when an officer is seriously injured, killed or kidnapped in the line of duty. Though many of the details haven't been ironed out, the system likely would be modeled after "AMBER Alerts," in which the public learns about missing children through electronic message boards, emails and text messages.
The S.C. House and Senate passed the bill unanimously last week. Rep. Eddie Tallon, its primary sponsor and a retired agent with the State Law Enforcement Division, said it's expected to be signed by Gov. Nikki Haley. South Carolina would be the 12th state to adopt the system, he said.
"If someone has already shot a police officer, he would have no regard for citizens either; he feels life is worthless," the Spartanburg Republican said. "The sooner they get the information out, the sooner they'll get this person off the street."
Radio transmissions after the Jan. 14 shooting of Winslette, acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request by The Post & Courier, portray a frantic and intense search for the gunman. It created a commotion in the area for more than four hours as police agencies throughout the county responded to the scene.
Police dogs tracked the gunman's scent. Interstate 26 was closed as officers canvassed the area. Vehicles were stopped, and potential suspects were held at gunpoint. Firefighters used thermal-imaging cameras in an attempt to find the subject hiding in the veil of night.
"Use caution now in case you run up on this guy quick," a police supervisor exclaimed over the radio. "He's already shot one of us."
Fourteen hours later, five detectives following leads in the case arrested 25-year-old Timothy Darrell Johnson Jr. on a charge of attempted murder. They also arrested two people they say helped Johnson elude the police. Winslette suffered a gunshot wound to the knee. Another bullet hit his protective vest. He's expected to recover fully.
Spencer Pryor, spokesman for the North Charleston Police Department, wouldn't say exactly what led detectives to the home containing the suspect. But he released a statement Thursday that said the agency would welcome the "Blue Alert" system as another tool to disseminate information to the public, in addition to local and national media. He said that after the shooting, "we got the information out as soon as we were able to get specific, accurate information."
"Officers on scene that interacted with citizens during vehicle checks ... informed them of their actions and what occurred," the statement said. "We will continue to work at getting timely and accurate information out to the public, as we rely on them for information."