The York County Sheriff's deputy who shot a 70-year-old man reaching for his cane during a traffic stop last month wept and begged God to forgive him after he fired about six shots at the man, according to the deputy’s dash cam video released Wednesday afternoon.
During a news conference at the York County Detention Center, Sheriff Bruce Bryant said deputies reviewed video of the incident “time and time and time again” and feel that Deputy Terrance Knox did nothing wrong when he fired his service weapon during a traffic stop on U.S. 321 in Clover at about 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25. He also said he does not believe the victim, Bobby Canipe of Lincolnton, N.C., did anything “intentionally” wrong when he stepped out his car and began walking toward Knox while grabbing his walking cane.
Still, Bryant said he plans to speak with the state General Assembly and state Sheriff’s Association and push for legislation requiring state and even federal highway officials to add instructions in driver’s manuals on what to do when motorists are stopped by police officers.
“We’re not making excuses in anything we’ve done,” Bryant said, “but if you’re out at night ... and you’re out there by yourselves (on traffic stops), you’ve got to realize that these officers must act to protect their own safety. You do not exit your vehicle and go meet the police officer. You do not do that.”
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Knox stopped Canipe for an expired license tag on a darkened stretch of U.S. 321 north of Clover. Canipe got out of his Ford F150 pickup truck, and the deputy shot him at several times as he reached into the truck’s bed for his cane.
Canipe was hit once in the chest. He was treated at a Charlotte hospital and released.
Deputy Knox remains on paid administrative leave while the State Law Enforcement Division continues to investigate the incident. Once SLED’s investigation is finished, the 16th Circuit Solicitor’s Office will review the case and determine whether Knox will face charges.
A day after the shooting, a sheriff’s office spokesman released a statement calling Knox’s actions “appropriate.”
Bryant on Wednesday declined to call the shooting “justified,” but said he likely would have taken the same actions as Deputy Knox if he were in the same situation.
Video from Knox’s dashboard camera shows Canipe walking out his pickup truck. He walks toward the back of his truck.
“Hey sir,” Knox says as Canipe reaches for something near the truck bed. “Sir ... sir.” He shouts “sir” again as Knox begins to pull a long object, later revealed to be his cane, from the back of the truck. Canipe swings the cane over the truck’s tailgate. Knox fires his gun in a cluster of at least six shots. The exchange takes about 17 seconds.
Canipe, still holding his cane, slumps against the truck. Knox shouts “shots fired ... shots fired” into his radio and orders Canipe to “drop the gun ... drop the gun.” He utters profanity when he realizes Canipe is holding a cane. He calls for EMS and runs over to the man, who slowly kneels to the ground, groaning in pain. Canipe’s passenger and the only other witness to the shooting, Carolyn McEntire, walks out of the truck as Knox asks Canipe if he’s OK. Canipe says, “Oh, it hurts.” A few more seconds pass as Canipe explains he was trying to get his cane out the truck.
“Lord, please help him ... please help him ... please help him ... oh God, please help him,” McEntire shouts before she begins making phone calls.
“Oh, God, forgive me,” Knox said as he crouches beside Canipe. “I’m so sorry, sir.”
Canipe remains conscious, explaining that he and McEntire were on their way back to North Carolina after going to a car race in Florida. As more deputies arrive, Knox tells them Canipe “jumped out the truck and pulled the cane out...” before he begins to sob. McEntire continues to pray, saying they were “innocent people just going home ... we’re just only human beings.”
“It looked like a shotgun, I promise to God,” Knox told deputies as he wept. “I tried to tell him to stop, but he didn’t stop. Forgive me, God ... forgive me.”
A female deputy consoles Knox, while a male deputy begins to pray with him as paramedics arrive.
Canipe was taken to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte with a single gunshot wound to the chest.
Efforts to reach Canipe and family members were unsuccessful Wednesday.
‘Officers fear just like you fear’
Sheriff’s officials on Wednesday threw their support behind Knox, a three-year sheriff’s office employee. Use of force policies authorize officers to use deadly force to protect themselves or another person from what is “imminently believed to be a ... threat of death or serious physical injury,” Bryant said. “This officer felt at the time that he pulled this trigger that his life was in danger and I stand behind this officer.”
Investigators probing officer-involved shootings must determine if the officer’s actions were “objectively reasonable.” Kris Jordan, York County Sheriff’s Office attorney, said deputies believe Knox’s actions were “objectively reasonable.”
“Now, granted, after you find out Mr. Canipe is getting the cane out of the back of his truck, certainly that changes the perception,” she said. “But at the time Officer Knox acted, he had no information about this gentleman, no information about his age ... this happened extremely quickly.”
Jordan also discussed Knox’s “anguish” over “truly believing it was a shotgun and his life was absolutely, imminently in danger.”
“When this officer fired those shots, he was to the side of his car, he had no cover, he’s backing up trying to get cover as he’s firing his weapon, which is probably why he shot multiple times because he’s just trying to get to safety in his mind,” she said.
"If I had a police officer who I thought was not afraid of anything, I don’t want him working for me,” Bryant said. “Officers fear just like you fear; that is just human. That is how officers survive ... by the fear factor.”
The York County Sheriff’s Office released the video after receiving one request to view the video, Jordan said. The Herald last month filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the sheriff's office, asking for copies of Knox’s dash cam video and radio transmissions during the traffic stop. Jordan initially declined that request, writing that those items would be released once the SLED investigation was finished and prosecutors could review the investigative file and determine if charges would be pressed.
The Herald cited a 2011 Circuit Court decision that ruled denying the release of public records pending an ongoing investigation was not justifiable.
On Tuesday, The Herald was informed the video would be released this week. Jordan said she would have preferred that the video be released after SLED's investigation closed, but "that wasn’t something that we were going to be able to do."