Security guard cleared in fatal shooting on Brays Island

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Security guard cleared in fatal shooting on Brays Island

Published Wednesday, December 1, 2010   |  627 Words  |  

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said Wednesday that a 58-year-old Brays Island Plantation security officer was justified in fatally shooting a Florida man early Thanksgiving when he responded to a call from a family member inside a Brays Island Drive home.

Preliminary autopsy reports from the Medical University of South Carolina confirmed Wednesday that James Piotrowski, 42, of Stuart, Fla., suffered multiple gunshot wounds, one of which was fired by security officer Charles Gary Knox of Beaufort, Tanner said.

Piotrowski died shortly after he was shot at about 12:09 a.m. at the home of his uncle and aunt, Richard and Carolyn Santee, Tanner said.

There was an argument between Piotrowski and Richard Santee, 68, Tanner said. Knox shot Piotrowski after the guard saw him shoot and wound Santee, he said.

Based on evaluations of the crime scene, witness interviews and evidence, Knox's actions are considered a justified use of force, according to a Sheriff's Office press release Wednesday.

"The security guard was confronted with a person with a gun and witnesses that man shoot another man," Tanner said. "The guard was in jeopardy, so he had to act. All of this happened in a matter of seconds."

Attempts to reach Knox, Piotrowski's family in Florida, Steve Russell, the community's head of security, and Brays Island Plantation General Manager Kevin Rhatigan were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Russell said Tuesday the security guard would be on paid administrative leave until the investigation is closed.

Tanner said it appears Piotrowski was shot multiple times before security arrived -- at least once in the stomach and a second time under the jaw -- and was then shot once in the upper left shoulder area of his back by Knox, according to Tanner.

"The immediate fatal wound was the one fired by the security officer, but pathologists said the other wound in his neck area could have and would have caused death if he hadn't received immediate medical attention," Tanner said Thursday. "It's very unfortunate that someone was killed, but Knox's actions were appropriate."

Shortly before security officers arrived, Santee went into his first-floor bedroom and retrieved from his closet a long-barreled revolver with the brand name "The Judge" loaded with .410-gauge shotgun shells, Tanner said.

Tanner declined Wednesday to release details about what happened next, citing the ongoing investigation.

People staying in the home told investigators they called Brays Island Plantation security before calling 911, he said. The caller, whom investigators believe was Carolyn Santee, gave few details to plantation security, asking only that officers come to the house quickly, Tanner said.

Moments later, Knox arrived at the large, two-story home and walked to the front door. He knocked and rang the doorbell, but no one answered.

"He didn't hear gunshots," Tanner said. "There was no indication of what was happening inside the home."

As he stood at the front door, Knox looked through a front window and saw a man standing in the foyer, pointing a gun at another man, who was slumped at the base of a staircase.

The man inside the home raised the gun and fired, hitting the man -- Santee -- on the staircase, Tanner said.

The security officer then opened the front door, which was unlocked, and shot the man holding the gun, later confirmed to be Piotrowski, Tanner said.

Santee, who was shot at least once by Piotrowski during the incident, was taken to Memorial Medical University in Savannah. He was listed in good condition Tuesday, Tanner said. The medical center did not have him listed as a patient Wednesday.