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Litchfield shooting: 911 recording shows mother’s concern for suicidal woman
By Charles Swenson
A woman who was shot and killed by a deputy in Litchfield in July had been posting messages on Facebook all day saying she planned to kill herself. She was involved in a dispute over custody of her 3-year-old daughter.
Valerie Harrington, 36, was shot by a deputy who was dispatched to check on her. She charged at the deputy with a knife while he and two colleagues were searching her Litchfield Oaks apartment, according to the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office, which has not released the name of the deputy.
The sheriff’s office this week released recordings of 911 calls and radio dispatches related to the shooting. The case is still under investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division.
At the request of the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, the sheriff’s office redacted a phone conversation between the deputy and the dispatcher. The deputy’s radio was not working, said Carrie Cuthbertson, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office. Based on the 911 recordings, only one deputy had radio trouble: Joseph Wilson.
A report from the SLED investigation will go to the solicitor’s office, which will determine if there is any criminal liability.
Just before 5 p.m. on July 12, Harrington’s mother, Reta Abbott, phoned the sheriff’s office to say her daughter was suicidal. “I just came back from there yesterday,” Abbott told a dispatcher. “She needs to be in a hospital.”
Abbott lives in Alabama, where Harrington grew up and graduated from Auburn University with a degree in engineering. She said she learned of her daughter’s threats from the paralegal at Harrington’s attorney’s office. “Her attorney’s office says that she is posting on there that she is going to kill herself. She is in a dispute over custody of her daughter,” Abbott said. “She does not have her daughter right now.”
The dispatcher asked if Harrington had any weapons. “No, ma’m, she does not,” Abbott said. “I took that from her when I left.”
Harrington and her husband divorced in March. The divorce agreement lists a “.243 rifle” among the property Harrington would keep. The agreement also said the parents would have joint custody of their child.
Abbott wasn’t sure of her daughter’s apartment number, but she described the location to the dispatcher. She thought the address might be on file because Harrington had been arrested a couple of weeks earlier for improper use of a telephone, Abbott said.
“Did they say how she’s planning on doing it?” the dispatcher asked.
“No, no,” Abbott said. “All I know is her attorney said that she has been posting on Facebook all day long and that, oh, let me see, said that I need to call 911.”
Abbott, who was composed and even apologetic at the start, choked up as she went over what she was told by the paralegal.
“Alright, we’ll have someone go over there and do a welfare check for her, OK?” the dispatcher said.
“OK,” Abbott said. “I am telling you that she may seem normal, but she is not. So please get, uh, she needs to be in a hospital. Not in a jail cell, but in a hospital.”
Deputy Joseph Wilson was dispatched to Ashcraft Circle in Litchfield Oaks at 5:03 p.m. Deputies are identified on the transmissions by their services numbers, the same numbers they use in completing incident reports.
Wilson was told that he could phone Abbott to get directions to Harrington’s apartment. “I might have an easier time asking the manager there,” he said.
Wilson got a call from another deputy saying, “That’s part of that Kent Road harassment,” referring to the location of the home in Andrews that Harrington deeded to her ex-husband, Joey. He filed a complaint in June that Harrington sent him excessive and disparaging text messages. He also said he thought it was unsafe for their child to stay with Harrington because “she may be drinking or involved with medication.”
“They’re a little ways away from Kent Road,” Wilson said. He asked the other deputy to phone him, but the other deputy said he didn’t have cell service.
Wilson arrived at 5:12 p.m., according to the subsequent report by the shift sergeant, Angela Carter. At 5:21 he asked dispatchers to have the shift supervisor, Sgt. Clark Ard, phone him because his radio wasn’t working. “If I can get a signal,” Ard said.
In a brief radio exchange a few minutes later, Ard told Wilson, “Try to find out specifically what she said on Facebook. Make her read it to you.”
Less than 10 minutes later, the dispatcher says she is trying to reach Wilson. “He is out on Ashcraft and his radio’s 10-7. I’ll get him by 21,” the dispatcher said. In radio terms, 10-7 means “out of service” and 10-21 means “by phone.”
It’s unclear whether that was the phone call redacted by the sheriff’s office from the 911 tapes. Cuthbertson said she would have to ask a supervisor to check the time stamp.
The shift sergeant’s report, the only one issued after the shooting, said deputies were told by Harrington’s attorney that she was locked in a bathroom with a knife threatening to kill herself. They knocked on her apartment door, but she didn’t answer. There is no reference to those events in the 911 tapes.
At 5:48 p.m., Ard told Wilson, “Go ahead and wait on the keys.” The incident report says the key to the apartment was obtained from the property manager.
A second deputy, Dawud Aswad, radioed at 5:57 p.m. that he was on the way to Litchfield Oaks. Aswad and Wilson were among nine deputies who received “challenge coins” from Sheriff Lane Cribb for outstanding service last year.
The call to Litchfield Oaks was one of several that kept deputies busy that afternoon. There was a call from the western part of the county from a woman who said her brother was threatening to kill her. Two boats collided near the Crazy Sister Marina in Murrells Inlet. There was a 911 hangup call from Litchfield by the Sea.
At 6:14 p.m. a deputy called out on the radio: “Shots fired. Shots fired.”
“My God,” said a voice in the background at the dispatch center.
“Shots fired. Shots fired. Send EMS. Roll EMS,” the deputy called.
“They’re coming. Advise of injuries. I’ll let them know,” the dispatcher said.
Other deputies radioed that they were on the way to Litchfield Oaks.
After two minutes, a dispatcher called. “Units on the scene at Ashcraft Circle, can you advise of the situation.”
“EMS is on the scene,” someone answered. “The scene is secured. All units 10-4.”
The dispatcher called again at 6:20 p.m. “Just to confirm, just to confirm,” she said. “All my officers are 10-4. EMS said he was concerned for an officer.”
“All officers are 10-4,” a voice replied. Wilson, he said, was “shaken.”
“Just making sure my guys are OK,” the dispatcher said.
According to Carter’s report, Harrington charged at a deputy with a knife. She was taken to Waccamaw Community Hospital, where she died of “multiple gunshot wounds,” according to the coroner.
Carter reached the scene at 6:30 p.m. She reported that three deputies were “secured in vehicles.”
Last month, the sheriff’s office said that Wilson, Aswad and Deputy Brandon Siratt had been placed on administrative leave after the shooting, which follows office policy is situations involving the use of deadly force. Aswad and Siratt have since returned to duty, according to a review of incident reports.
An investigator called from the apartment at 6:37 p.m. asking for someone to bring another crime scene log, “cause this one’s filled up,” he said.
At 2:31 the next morning, the last deputy reported leaving the apartment. “The case is still open,” Thom Berry, the SLED spokesman, said this week.