At approximately 4:25 pm on December 1, 2020, Ethan Calton, 28, lost his life after being shot in the back by Officer Tyler Greene of the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office.
Officer Greene is the leader of the Interdiction Team of the Sheriff’s Office and is deputized to act as a Homeland Security Officer. Homeland Security Agent Joseph Magilton is also a member of the Interdiction Team and was present during the shooting of Calton.
The Interdiction Team works in tandem with the Narcotics team and engages in the same practices that RC Catalyst has recently described. See https://foothillscatalyst.com/revised-rutherford-county-narcotics-creates-criminal-network/ and https://foothillscatalyst.com/sheriff-office-narcotics-team-prey-on-community/
In the days preceding Calton’s death, officers from the Interdiction Team, including Officer Greene and Agent Magilton, began to hunt Calton, in part, by threatening other individuals they have forced to work as confidential informants to provide information as to his whereabouts.
On the evening of December 1, 2020, Calton and a friend were working on a repair to Calton’s vehicle in the driveway of a home located on Edisto Drive off Highway 221. At approximately 4:15pm, three (3) law enforcement officers – Officer Greene, Agent Magilton, and Officer Henderson (a deputy with the Sheriff’s Office) – pulled into the driveway in an unmarked black vehicle. They exited the vehicle wearing civilian clothes and began approaching Calton, who was carrying a firearm that was holstered on his hip (the firearm was secured in the holster by a latch that held it in place).
As the officers walked up behind Calton, Calton was on the phone, facing away from the officers, and, according to witnesses present at the scene (who will not be identified for safety concerns, but who are all fully cooperating with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations), appeared unaware of their presence. The officers did not identify themselves or make any announcement to notify Calton that they were behind him, nor did they provide any indication as to why they were present.
Once the officers reached Calton’s location, they immediately took actions to physically restrain him and force him to the ground. Calton struggled to separate himself from the officers, demanding that the unidentified officers “get your hands off me.” At that point, the officers identified themselves and their purpose for attempting to apprehend Calton.
As Calton continued trying to disengage from the confrontation, he turned his back to Officer Greene and attempted to distance himself from the officers.
As described by two witnesses who observed this incident, Officer Greene – with no warning – grabbed his firearm, aimed at Calton, and fired one fatal shot directly into the center of Ethan Calton’s back, striking his heart. The gunshot propelled Calton forward, causing him to fall face-forward onto the ground.
According to multiple eyewitnesses Calton was shot while unarmed. He did not remove his gun from the holster, he made no attempts to reach for his weapon, and never made any comments suggesting he had any intention of utilizing his firearm. The witnesses that detailed the interaction stated that Agent Magilton and Officer Henson immediately drew their weapons after Officer Greene shot Calton, after which all three officers hovered over Calton with their guns drawn as Calton struggled to breath. The officers offered no medical assistance as Calton quickly stopped moving and passed away.
Instead, the officers decided to first contact Sheriff Chris Francis before requesting assistance from EMS. It was only after the officers completed their discussion with Sheriff Francis (and after Calton had already succumbed to the fatal shot fired by Officer Greene) that the officers finally contacted EMS and radioed to dispatch that shots had been fired.
According to one witness who observed Calton’s body immediately after the fatal shot was fired, Calton’s firearm remained in his gun holster with the holster latch still secured as he laid on the ground unable to move.
Based on testimony of two other witnesses that observed the scene after Calton stopped breathing, one of the officers reached down to Calton’s body, unlatched the strap securing his firearm in his gun holster, removed the weapon, and placed it on the ground next to Calton.
One of the eyewitnesses stated that Francis arrived immediately after the officers had contacted him. This witness recalled Francis and the three officers standing together and heard Francis state “let’s get our stories straight” before the Francis and the three (3) officers involved in the shooting walked out of hearing distance. Within minutes, other officers began arriving at the scene and the three officers involved with the shooting left.
***According to unconfirmed sources and emergency dispatch records, Officer Greene checked in as being on the scene at 4:14pm – 4:15pm and, at 4:25pm placed a phone call requesting that the Fraternal Order of Police provide him with an attorney.***
SHERIFF FRANCIS USES 8 MINUTE PRESS CONFERENCE TO CONSTRUCT NARRATIVE THAT CONFLICTS WITH WITNESS ACCOUNTS
On December 2, 2020, Sheriff Francis spoke with Carolina Fox News and provided an approximately eight (8) minutes press conference regarding the shooting of Ethan Calton. https://www.foxcarolina.com/news/deputies-officer-involved-shooting-in-rutherford-county-under-investigation-by-sbi/article_f3b6bd18-3454-11eb-ba85-3b7d7401b212.html.
In that interview, Francis stated Officer Greene, Officer Henderson, and Agent Magilton were present to serve a warrant for outstanding charges against Calton. Francis noted that Calton “was known to the deputies and the H[omeland Security] agent had dealt with the individuals as well[,]” and that the presence of three (3) officers – including Homeland Security Agent Joseph Magilton – to serve a warrant was justified based on the nature of charges pending against Calton.
Francis presented the following narrative as to what he and the officers claim occurred before and after Calton’s death:
“As soon as the[ officers] approached, [Calton] began to walk away and then they quickly got up close to him. At that time he began to brandish what appeared to be a semi-automatic handgun . . . . [The officers] attempted to disarm him and, at the time, he was giving threatening statements to other law officers on the scene . . . . [Officer Greene] was able to stop this horrific incident from becoming any worse with Tyler being able to shoot one round and stop him from being aggressive toward the law enforcement officers on the scene at that point”
“The quick training when someone quickly pulls out a firearm and there is a struggle for that gun, it could have gone off at any time. He was making statements that led the officers to believe he going to do them harm and not going to go back to jail or prison . . . . He had it in his mind that he [would] not [go back to prison] and appeared to do anything so that he would not go in.”
“He was outside when the officers arrived and those officers knew him personally and he also knew them. And when they identified as law enforcement officers – and even before that – he was taking off and was quickly assaultive toward them”
Sheriff Francis’ statements directly contradict the eyewitness accounts of the events leading to Calton’s death. Most significantly, all witnesses that have spoken with RC Catalyst emphatically denied that Calton had removed his weapon from the holster on his hip or that he made any movements suggesting he was attempting to do so.
Sheriff Francis’ narrative describing Calton’s behavior as extraordinarily aggressive, threatening, and creating a life-threatening situation for the officers involved is also belied by the witnesses’ testimony. While Sheriff Francis appears to praise Officer Greene for “being able to shoot one round and stop [Calton] from being aggressive toward the law enforcement officers on the scene” and “stop [the] horrific incident from becoming any worse,” each witness described Calton as being surprised with the officers’ arrival and immediate efforts to physically subdue him, and that Calton only made attempts to disengage from the officers.
In fact, Sheriff Francis’ statement that “when [the officers] identified as law enforcement officers – and even before that – [Calton] was taking off and was quickly assaultive toward them” suggests that Calton was not engaging in any type of behavior that would warrant the use of deadly force. It is unclear how Calton could be “taking off” while, simultaneously, being “quickly assaultive” toward the officers. However, in light of multiple witnesses’ testimony that Calton made no attempts to remove his weapon from its holster, Chris Francis’ comments raise serious questions as to the veracity of the story that he and the officers involved are attempting to publicly convey.
QUESTIONS REMAIN AS TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING ETHAN CALTON’S DEATH
According to multiple current and former deputies from the Sheriff’s Office who have asked to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal from Sheriff Francis, the events surrounding Calton’s death raise a number of concerns.
As an initial matter, the officers speaking with RC Catalyst noted the unusual nature of Homeland Security Agent Joseph Magilton being present to serve a routine arrest warrant. One of these officers noted that Agent Magilton has frequently been present in recent months during situations that should be handled by uniformed officers as part of their typical job responsibilities. For example, the officer stated that Agent Magilton has been present to handle domestic disputes, during the execution of simple search warrants, etc.
Although Sheriff Francis stated that Officer Greene, Agent Magilton, and Officer Henderson were present at the scene to serve an arrest warrant, officers obtained a search warrant for the residence and three (3) vehicles at the crime scene approximately two (2) hours after Calton’s death. The stated basis for the search warrant was to investigate an alleged murder. The search warrant does not, however, disclose whether Calton is the subject of the investigation or, instead, the search warrant was to gather information regarding a potential homicide investigation into Officer Greene’s shooting. If the search warrant was related to Calton, questions remain as to why the warrant was not obtained prior to Officer Greene, Agent Magilton, and Officer Henderson arriving at the scene to arrest Calton and why that warrant could not have been executed in a manner that would have mitigated any risks of confrontation, i.e., by searching with Calton not present.
Perhaps the most salient question regarding Calton’s death, however, is how Officer Greene was permitted to be in a position where this situation could have occurred in light of his history with officer shootings at the Sheriff’s Office. Officer Greene became a deputy at the Sheriff’s officer in 2015. During that five (5) year time period, Officer Greene has been involved in four (4) separate shootings – nearly one (1) shooting per year.
According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted by the National Police Research Platform, only 27% of all officers say they have ever fired their service weapon while on the job. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/08/a-closer-look-at-police-officers-who-have-fired-their-weapon-on-duty/. While statistics on officer shootings are notoriously fluid, Officer Greene’s record of being involved in nearly one shooting per year raises serious concerns about why Officer Greene was afforded the opportunity to be in yet another officer-involved shooting that, in this context, resulted in the death of Ethan Calton.