York County, SC – A wanted fugitive who was shot multiple times after allegedly grabbing a shotgun during a confrontation with York County deputies has filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office, claiming they shot him too quickly (video below).
The South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) previously determined the four York County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO) deputies involved in the May 7, 2021, shooting of 29-year-old Trevor Mullinax were justified in using deadly force and the deputies have all been “cleared of wrongdoing,” NBC News reported.
“Mr. Mullinax chose to put these men in danger by pulling a shotgun,” York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said in a statement to NBC News. “These deputies responded appropriately to the threat as they were trained to do. Had Mr. Mullinax made different choices that day, deputies would not have been required to use force.”
Sheriff Tolson said Mullinax was also prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition when the incident occurred.
Mullinax, who had an outstanding warrant for first-degree burglary at the time of the confrontation, survived the shooting and recently sued the sheriff’s office for their alleged “gross negligence,” WCCB reported.
The lawsuit claimed deputies descended on Mullinax “like cowboys from a John Wayne movie” and opted to use “deadly force, immediately, without attempting to deescalate the situation,” according to NBC News.
Mullinax said during a press conference after the lawsuit was filed that he was suffering a mental health crisis and contemplating suicide when the confrontation occurred.
“May is Mental Health Awareness Month,” he lamented while addressing the reporters. “I hate that I have to be the face of it this month. But if it helps even one single person in this world to not have to go through it me and my family have, I’m okay with it.”
Mullinax’s attorney, Justin Bamberg, said the series of events leading up to the shooting began several days earlier due to a rift between Mullinax and his girlfriend, NBC News reported.
Bamberg said his client kicked in the front door of his girlfriend’s home, which resulted in him being charged with burglary.
“Trevor was just in a really dark place,” the lawyer said, according to NBC News.
Deputies responded to the Mullinax family’s property after receiving a call from one of his friends or family members requesting a “wellness check,” according to the lawsuit.
Mullinax’s grandfather directed deputies to an area of the property where Mullinax was sitting in a pickup struck, speaking with his mother, Tammy Beason, NBC News reported.
Dashcam footage showed Beason standing next to the driver’s side window of the truck as deputies pulled up.
They approached the truck with their weapons drawn and ordered Mullinax to show his hands.
That’s when, according to deputies, the suspect grabbed a gun.
“Ms. Beason stated specifically in her interview with SLED that Trevor Mullinax ‘reached and he grabbed the shotgun and he pulled it up and that’s when they [meaning the deputies] saw it and started shooting,’” Sheriff Tolson told reporters during the press conference on Wednesday.
“He informed medical personnel that he wanted to shoot himself, but then decided he wanted to have police do it and he grabbed the gun when we arrived,” the sheriff added.
Mullinax’s attorneys said deputies fired nearly 50 rounds, hitting him multiple times, WCCB reported.
“There was a round that hit him smack dab in the middle of the back of his head,” Bamberg told reporters, according to NBC News. “Never seen anybody get shot in the back of the head who’s a threat to law enforcement or anybody else.”
Beason, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, was not physically injured during the incident.
“In utter shock, Plaintiff Beason dove backwards while yelling in horror as bullets from the Sheriff’s deputies hit the vehicle narrowly missing her,” the lawsuit read.
Sheriff Tolson insisted on Wednesday that his deputies responded to the threat exactly as they were trained to do.
“Please hear me – and I cannot say this more clearly than what I’m going to say. If a suspect pulls a weapon on a man or a woman wearing a badge that says the York County Sheriff’s Office, that situation is not going to end well for that suspect,” the sheriff said.
Despite Beason’s admission to SLED that she saw her son “reach and grab a firearm” when deputies arrived, Mullinax and his team have denied allegations that he ever pulled a gun or pointed it at himself or anyone else, WCCB reported.
“At no point prior to, during, or after Sheriff’s deputies began shooting did Plaintiff Mullinax raise, point, or otherwise move with a weapon in such a fashion as would authorize Sheriff’s deputies to use deadly force,” the lawsuit declared, according to NBC News.
“Sheriff’s deputies arrested and charged Plaintiff Mullinax with pointing and presenting a firearm at the deputies, which did not happen and was not true,” the suit claimed.
The complaint accused the sheriff’s office of filing charges against Mullinax in an attempt to “cover” for the deputies’ “utter excessive use of deadly force.”
The pointing and presenting a weapon charge filed against Mullinax was actually filed by SLED and the case is still pending, CNN reported.
Sheriff Tolson said on Wednesday that his office had not been served with the lawsuit yet, but that the claims being made by Mullinax and his attorney were too serious not to address.
“I’ve never held a press conference about litigation – litigation that I haven’t even been served with yet,” the sheriff said.
“I feel forced to address this suit out of what I consider to be the proper venue – and that’s the court – because Mr. Mullinax and his attorney has decided to call their own press conference to disseminate selected information about this incident to the public,” he continued.
Sheriff Tolson said members of his department have been receiving messages asking them why they haven’t committed suicide, among other disparaging and cruel comments.
“Me personally, I’ve been called an anti-American pig,” he added, “all because hand-picked bits of information – certainly not the full story – have been given to the public.”
Sheriff Tolson said he won’t engage in “back-and-forth” arguments over the allegations contained in the lawsuit, but that the facts of the case need to be made clear.
The facts he referred to came from the independent investigation conducted by SLED, ne noted, not his own office.
“Four deputies approached an individual wanted for a violent felony who was armed with a knife and experiencing mental distress,” Sheriff Tolson told reporters. “As those deputies approached, this individual pulled a shotgun. Fearing for their safety, these deputies discharged their weapons at the individual.”
“So there you have it,” the frustrated sheriff said. “I’m tired. I’m tired because police officers today are forced to take on so many roles that should not be the responsibility of law enforcement, and then we face criticism for how we handle these responsibilities that are forced upon us.”
Sheriff Tolson said there have been some good things that have come from the push for police reform, but he said more needs to be done to improve mental health resources for community members.
He noted that from 2018 through 2022, his department responded to 395 suicides or suicide attempts, conducted 1,256 well-being checks, and carried out 4,039 transports for mental health patients.
“Our county is experiencing a mental health crisis and it should not fall to police officers to be the first line of response to those in mental distress,” Sheriff Tolson said.
Watch the incident unfold in the video below. Warning – Graphic Content and Obscene Language:
Warning ⚠️: This video is graphic. Almost 50 shots fired, and our client was struck 9x, including directly in the back of the head. In a 911 call for a wellness check leading up to this moment, the caller stated: “We just want to get our buddy some help.” pic.twitter.com/gJB7O2JQoO
— Justin Bamberg, Esq. (@JustinBamberg) May 9, 2023