Shop owner charged with murder in shooting of teenager once shot suspected shoplifters

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) – A South Carolina store owner charged with murder this week after shooting a teenager he mistakenly thought stole water shot suspected shoplifters two others times in the past eight years and has not been charged, authorities said.

In 2018, Richard Chow confronted a shoplifter at his Xpress Mart Shell station in Columbia and the man attacked him, Richland County deputies said. Chow fired two shots and wounded the man in the leg, who pleaded guilty to the charges in the case. investigators said.

In 2015, Chow fired several shots at a vehicle after trying to arrest someone he suspected of shoplifting, and the suspect got into the vehicle and threatened to shoot Chow, said deputies. No one was hurt.

In both cases, authorities said Chow’s actions were not criminal. South Carolina self-defense law requires the shooter not to instigate the incident, believe they are in imminent danger, and have no means of avoiding that danger.

Deputies decided that was not the case on Sunday, when they said Chow and his son chased a 14-year-old from his shop and killed him with a shot in the back. Chow is charged with murder and investigators are discussing with prosecutors possible additional charges against Chow or his son, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.

Chow thought the boy stole four bottles of water. But Cyrus Carmack-Belton put the bottles back in the cooler. After an argument, Carmack-Belton fled the store and was still on the run when he was killed, Sheriff Leon Lott said.

A gun was found near the teenager’s body and Chow’s son told his father that Carmack-Belton was armed after the youngster fell while running, Lott said. But the sheriff said there was no evidence the boy ever pointed the gun at Chow or his son.

The sheriff’s department has not released additional information about the other two shootings. They said deputies had been called to the Chow store in the northeast suburb of Richland County hundreds of times over the past five years for assaults, shoplifting, personal theft, theft of motor vehicles, vandalism, robbery and burglary.

A number of media outlets have requested open files for police reports on the incidents, and authorities say they are working to collect them.

Chow, 58, is awaiting a bail hearing at the Richland County Jail. His attorney said he is not speaking to the case at this time. Chow faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted of murder.

Chow legally possessed the gun, but witnesses and surveillance video provided no evidence that he feared for his life, Lott said.

“You don’t shoot someone in the back who isn’t a threat to you,” the sheriff said.

Anguish and grief have spread after the shooting in the African-American community of Richland County, where nearly half the population is black.

The state’s only black congressman, Democratic Representative Jim Clyburn, said Carmack-Belton and his family should celebrate the end of eighth grade and attend high school instead of mourning him at his funeral on Saturday.

“The criminalization of black men and boys and the historical tendency to portray them as aggressors has time and again led to deadly and heartbreaking circumstances,” Clyburn said in a statement. “Carmack-Belton has since been found innocent, but his alleged crime of stealing a bottle of water from shoplifting should not have cost him his life. I pray for speedy justice.

Chow’s race in court records is listed as Asian.

Several dozen people gathered at the store on Monday for a peaceful vigil that included pouring water on the floor, spelling out “Cyrus” with the empty bottles and a sign taped to the locked door reading “Water or life? What does more mean? »

But after dark, deputies said another group painted the store with ‘Cyrus’ and ’14’, broke windows and started stealing beer, cigarettes and other goods . Lott said when they find the people he called looters they will be charged.

The entire gas station is now behind yellow crime scene tape and deputies are watching it.

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