The family of a South Carolina man killed by deputies last year has filed a wrongful death lawsuit accusing them of negligence.
The lawsuit alleges deputies knew Irvin Charley had a mental illness and should have followed protocol to keep him alive.
“My son was a loving son. He didn’t bother nobody. He just had a mental health issue,” Charley’s mother Connie Craig, said during a news conference.
The lawsuit filed on Feb. 24 is for an unspecified amount in damages. It says Richland County Sheriff deputies were negligent and failed to follow their training when dealing with someone experiencing a mental health crisis.
Charley, 34, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a disorder where a person interprets reality abnormally. On the day he was killed, deputies say they responded to a 911 call from Charley’s sister at 5:49 p.m. on March 19, 2022.
“I just had an officer come to 117 Gloria Trail about my brother, but he’s up there at my momma house, and he’s pulled a knife and dropped it on my momma,” the woman caller said.
“You said he has a knife on your mother?” the dispatcher asked.
“He’s pulled a knife on my brother, my stepdad and my momma,” the woman caller replied.
When deputies arrived at the home, they met Charley’s mother, Connie Craig outside along with her husband. She’s heard on the body-camera video telling the deputy, “You better get him.”
Deputy John Anderson walked towards the home and asks, “Is it Irvin?”
Craig said Charley hit her in the head and she demanded a deputy get Charley out of her home.
As Anderson approaches the front door, Charley comes barging outside with a wooden object described as a leg to a chair.
Anderson begins yelling at Charley to drop the object.
“Drop the weapon, drop the weapon now!” Anderson said repeatedly.
As Charley walks towards Anderson with the wooden object in his right hand, Craig approaches her son, attempting to talk to him.
“Don’t hit my son,” Craig is heard in the background.
Anderson continues to order Charley to drop the object with his service weapon drawn and pointed toward Charley.
As Charley continued walking slowly toward Anderson, the deputy walked backward while asking him to drop the object.
“Y’all going to have to shoot me,” Charley repeatedly tells deputies.
A second deputy, Zachary Hentz, standing diagonal from Charley deployed his taser roughly 38 seconds after Charley emerged from the home. The taser did not connect, and Charley charged Hentz, causing the deputy to deliver four gunshots to Charley’s front torso.
Deputies tried to render aid after the shooting, but Charley succumbed to his injuries.
The lawsuit alleges Anderson and Hentz responded to the same home earlier in the day because of Charley. During their first encounter, the deputies are accused of not alerting dispatch, not alerting the mental health crisis unit, and instead “simply left the scene allowing the situation to fester.”
The deputies are also accused of not following protocol when dealing with someone experiencing a mental health crisis when they returned the second time for the fatal encounter.
“The officer was very aware of my son and my son’s condition. They had been to the home many times, several times, to my home and my mother’s home,” Craig said.
Shortly after the shooting, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the initial call was not a mental health call.
“We did not receive a mental health call, we received a 911 domestic call involving someone with a knife or a weapon,” Lott said during a news conference.
“We believe officers could have disarmed Mr. Charley easily and without the use of deadly force,” attorney Shaquana Cuttino said to The Associated Press.
The lawsuit accuses the Sheriff’s Office of failing to adequately train its deputies to assess persons of interest to determine if a mental health team would be needed.
In the days and weeks after the shooting, social justice activists supported the family amid protests.
“We want justice,” Candance Brewer with the National Racial Justice Network said.
“We’re calling the police to come help us, and they’re murdering us, and all they have to say is I feared for my life. There’s no way you’re carrying a gun, and a man has a stick in his hand, and you feared for your life,” Brewer added.
In June 2022, the Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office concluded no evidence of wrongdoing by the officers and they were cleared of criminal charges in the shooting, according to WIS.
A Richland County Sheriff’s Department told Atlanta Black Star the agency “does not comment on pending litigation.”
We will continue to update this story as it develops.