Spartanburg, SC – A group of citizens who rescued an unconscious Spartanburg police officer after he was attacked by a knife-wielding man inside a Walmart store were awarded for their heroic actions Monday.
“We had citizens that not only said something, but they did something,” Spartanburg Police Chief Alonzo Thompson told WSPA. “They prevented [the officer] from further injury and possibly even the loss of his life.”
Off-duty Spartanburg Police Department (SPD) Officer Eric Hansen was working as a security guard for the Walmart store located at 141 Dorman Centre Drive on Aug. 20, 2020, when 22-year-old James Ray Cunningham attacked him without warning, WSPA reported at the time.
“All of a sudden it broke out in chaos, and screaming, and yelling and people hollering for help,” shopper Tosha Serratos told the news outlet. “There was blood.”
Witnesses said Cunningham jumped on Officer Hansen and stabbed him in the face before knocking him to the ground and punching him repeatedly until he lost consciousness.
He then tried to pull the officer’s duty pistol off of his belt, pulling with enough force that he lifted the unconscious cop off of the ground, WSPA reported.
“When officers arrived on scene, witnesses stated a man attacked the officer for no apparent reason. The man was brandishing a knife during the attack,” the SPD said in a press release.
Employees and customers jumped into action, yanking the knife-wielding suspect away before he fled out the door and through the store parking lot, WSPA reported.
Cunningham jumped into a vehicle and tried to leave the scene, but crashed into another car and was subsequently taken into custody on charges of assault and battery, attempted murder, and possession of a weapon during a violent crime.
He later told investigators he armed himself with the blade with the intent of killing Officer Hansen, and that he planned to use the officer’s gun to murder others and to kill himself, according to police.
Officer Hansen survived the horrific attack and said he is thankful to everyone who came to his aid, WSPA reported.
“I am just extremely grateful, I mean, I owe them the world,” he said during the awards ceremony on Monday. “I still think I owe them my life.”
Four of the Good Samaritans who helped the wounded officer were bestowed with the Bill Barnet award in recognition of their heroic actions, WSPA reported.
“Everybody is calling me a hero, but I just did what was instinctual,” said one of the recipients, Bill Barnet. “You know, I could not see somebody being hurt like that and just watch.”
In addition to honoring the citizens who rushed to Officer Hansen’s aid, Chief Thompson, Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright, and Spartanburg County Solicitor Barry Barnette also discussed proposed legislation aimed at upping the penalty for offenders who follow through on threats to harm public officials, WSPA reported.
“We would like to ask our legislators, as well as our governor, to take a look at it and look at passing the bill to get extra protection to people, our public employees and people that serve the people, and we need that,” Barnette said during the press conference.
The proposed legislation calls for up to 30 years in prison for anyone who is convicted of threatening and following through with threats to harm a public official, WSPA reported.
“This must be accompanied by an overt act. So, that’s what’s different about it and it must be directly related to the public officials’ public responsibilities,” explained Rep. Max Hyde (R-Spartanburg), who authored the proposed law change.
Hyde said he is hopeful the bill will be taken up by the State Subcommittee on Criminal Laws sometime soon, WSPA reported.
In November, Cunningham pleaded “guilty but mentally ill” with regards to the unprovoked attack on Officer Hansen, according to WSPA.
He was sentenced to 24 years in prison.