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South Carolina teen falsely accused of shoplifting fatally shot by store owner: Police


(SOUTH CAROLINA) — A South Carolina gas station owner was charged with murder on Monday after allegedly shooting and killing a 14-year-old boy he wrongly believed had shoplifted several bottles of water, according to police.

Rick Chow, 58, was arrested and charged in connection to the fatal shooting of Cyrus Carmack-Belton in Columbia, South Carolina, the Richland County Sheriff’s Office said.

In a news conference on Monday, Sheriff Leon Lott said the teenager did not shoplift from the Shell gas station, despite Chow’s belief that he did.

“He did not shoplift anything. We have no evidence that he stole anything whatsoever,” Lott said.

ABC News reached out to Chow’s attorney, James Snell, Jr., on Wednesday, but his office declined to comment.

According to a sheriff’s office incident report obtained by ABC News, the shooting was “not a bias motivated incident.”

Police said there was a verbal confrontation inside the store before Cyrus left and took off running.

Lott said the convenience store owner, who police said was armed with a pistol, and his son chased after the teenager toward an apartment complex.

Cyrus fell during the chase, got up and was allegedly shot in the back by Chow, police said.

“Even if he had shoplifted four bottles of water, which is what he initially took out the cooler and then he put them back, even if he had done that, that’s not something you shoot anybody over, much less a 14-year-old,” Lott said. “You just don’t do that.”

Richland County coroner Naida Rutherford told reporters at the press conference on Monday that Cyrus died from “a single gunshot wound to his right lower back” that caused “significant damage to his heart and hemorrhaging.”

She added that his injury was consistent with “someone who was running away from the assailants.”

Attorney Todd Rutherford, who is representing Cyrus’ family, told ABC News in a statement on Wednesday that the teenager’s fatal shooting is “something that the Black community has experienced for generations.”

“What happened to [Cyrus] wasn’t an accident. It’s something that the Black community has experienced for generations: being racially profiled, then shot down in the street like a dog. Words can’t describe the pain I feel having known this family for decades,” Rutherford said.

“One beacon of hope is seeing the resilience of the Black community as they wrap their arms around this family that has joined the club that no Black family ever wants to be a part of,” he added.

Lott said that “at some point” during the chase, the son said that the teen had a gun.

“At that point the father shot the young man in the back,” Lott said. According to law enforcement, a gun was found close to the teen’s body.

“Right now we don’t have anything that says that he did not have that gun on him,” Lott said during the press conference Monday when asked if Cyrus was in possession of a gun during the incident.

But Lott added that the investigation found that Chow “did not have that gun pointed” at him and he did not fear for his life when he shot Cyrus.

“You don’t shoot somebody in the back who’s not a threat to you,” Lott said, adding that Cyrus was “running away” when he was shot.

Naida Rutherford added that “there’s no indication” that Cyrus was physically fighting with the store owner before he ran out of the store.

Following a peaceful protest at the gas station Monday, there was alleged vandalism and looting, which Lott condemned during a second press conference Tuesday, saying those who took part would be held responsible.

According to a police report, protesters shattered the business’ window, vandalized gas pumps, spray-painted outside the store and left the scene carrying beer and other food items.

Chow is being held at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, according to police.

Veronica Hill, a public information officer for the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, confirmed in a statement to ABC News on Wednesday that over the past five years the sheriff’s department has received “hundreds of calls for service” at the gas station owned by Chow related to cases of “assaults, larceny, shoplifting, motor vehicle theft, vandalism, robbery and burglary.”

She also said that Chow was involved in two incidents — one in 2018 and another in 2015 — where Chow confronted shoplifters and fired a weapon, but his conduct in those incidents “did not meet the requirements under South Carolina law to support criminal charges.”

According to Hill, in 2018 Chow confronted a shoplifter who then assaulted Chow, leading Chow to fire twice, and striking the assailant in the leg.

“That individual was treated at a local hospital and later pled guilty to charges stemming from this incident,” she said.

“In 2015, Mr. Chow attempted to stop an individual stealing items, that individual then entered a vehicle and threatened to shoot Mr. Chow. Mr. Chow fired approximately six shots at the vehicle. No one was injured,” she added.

Chow appeared in court on Tuesday, according to ABC affiliate in WOLO in Columbia, South Carolina, but a bond hearing has not been scheduled yet, the sheriff’s office told ABC News on Wednesday afternoon.

ABC News’ Brittany Gaddy and Ahmad Hemingway contributed to this report.

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