On Friday, Clifton Henry, 63, of Burton, was charged with pointing and presenting a firearm after he fired a warning shot when a couple was asked repeatedly to leave his property.
Some readers were baffled that Henry was arrested for what they see as “protecting himself and his property.” They commented on The Beaufort Gazette’s Facebook post. The Gazette spoke with Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Bob Bromage on Tuesday to answer those readers’ questions.
A woman followed Henry onto his Shanklin Road property on Friday afternoon to express her anger over what she says was a dangerous maneuver he made on the road that she said nearly caused an accident. The two argued loudly and Henry told the woman to leave, according to a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office report.
A short time later, the woman returned with her husband and Henry answered the door with shotgun in hand, according to the report. He told the couple to leave while pointing the shotgun at the husband. The couple began moving back to their car, still arguing with Henry, according to the report.
Henry told deputies he wanted the couple to know his shotgun was loaded so he fired once into the air across Shanklin Road as they were heading back to their car, according to the report.
Wasn’t he just protecting himself?
“Everyone has the right to protect their homes and themselves, but by his own admission, the threat had deescalated (when Henry fired his weapon),” Bromage said Tuesday.
Henry had every right to call law enforcement after the first incident, when the woman followed him onto his property and began to argue with him, Bromage said.
Some readers brought up the common law Castle Doctrine. To invoke the doctrine, three criteria need to be met: “(1) the person is in a place where he has a right to be, including the person’s place of business, (2) the person is not engaged in an unlawful activity, and (3) the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent death, great bodily injury, or the commission of a violent crime,” according to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division website. The doctrine removes the person’s duty to retreat from the threat and gives him or her the right to use deadly force.
There appeared to be no threat of violence and only verbal arguments between the parties, according to the Sheriff’s Office report.
As to whether Henry was truly fearful for his life and acting out of self-defense: “That’s something to be determined in court,” Bromage said. “He has every right to make his case ... but probable cause (to charge Henry) was established at the scene.”
The maximum sentence for pointing and presenting a firearm at another person - a felony - is five years in prison or “fined at the discretion of the court,” according to SC 16-23-410. The section of law goes on to state that it “must not be construed to abridge the right of self-defense,” however.
What about the couple?
Readers asked why the couple wasn'’t charged coming onto Henry’s property without permission, and not immediately leaving when they were told to do so by the homeowner.
The couple could have been served a trespass notice, Bromage said, making it unlawful for them to return to Henry’s home. But since Henry didn’t call law enforcement to complain or press charges about the trespassing - a misdemeanor - that didn’t happen.
SC 16-11-620 states that “Any person who, ... (enters onto) the premises of another person without having been warned fails and refuses, without good cause or good excuse, to leave immediately upon being ordered or requested to do so by the person in possession or his agent or representative shall, on conviction, be fined not more than two hundred dollars or be imprisoned for not more than thirty days.”
“They shouldn’t have gone back,” Bromage said. “Certainly going to his house was a bad idea.”
Bromage said that the woman could have called 911 after the initial traffic incident and let the Sheriff’s Office handle the dispute rather than taking matters into her own hands.