Beaufort News

Shooting raises questions on concealed gun laws

  • One had a concealed weapon permit. The other kept a gun in his tow truck.
  • A Christmas Eve argument between the two men -- over an apparent parking violation in a Bluffton neighborhood -- left Carlos Olivera dead from gunshot wounds and Preston Oates arrested and charged in his death.

    The incident could be a case study in South Carolina laws that govern firearms and the use of lethal force.

    Oates, a 27-year-old tow-truck driver, fatally shot Olivera, 34, on Dec. 24 after the two men argued over a parking boot Oates placed on Olivera's minivan, which was parked on Live Oak Walk in the Edgefield neighborhood.

    Oates, who has said the shooting was in self-defense, is charged with manslaughter and a weapons violation in Olivera's killing.

    THE LAW

    According to South Carolina statutes, a concealed weapon permit entitles a person to carry a hidden firearm in most public places, although there are exceptions -- among them schools or scholastic sporting events, the offices or public business meetings of a government body, and places where alcohol is sold for on-premises consumption. However, a permit doesn't give the holder any additional legal authority to use deadly force.

    In other words, a concealed weapon permit is not a license to kill.

    For example, it is illegal for residents in South Carolina -- whether they possess a concealed weapon permit or not -- to brandish their weapons, according to Bob Oberst, a National Rifle Association-certified and S.C. Law Enforcement Division-approved firearms instructor.

    Oberst, owner of Palmetto State Shooting Center in Okatie and a firearm instructor for more than 40 years, said opening a coat or article of clothing to reveal a weapon is considered "brandishing" and is against the law.

    "You learn that specifically in a concealed weapons class," he said. "We spend a good deal of time discussing the law of self-defense as it relates to South Carolina."

    Concealed weapon permit holders are required to take eight hours of handgun training and pass criminal and mental background checks.

    State law recognizes all people's right to remain "unmolested and safe within their homes, businesses and vehicles" and does not require them to "needlessly retreat in the face of intrusion or attack." This "Castle Law" also protects those who use deadly force under such circumstances in criminal or civil cases.

    The law gives less leeway to people when they are not in their homes, vehicles or places of business.

    However, those with valid permits and who are carrying concealed weapons or those who are carrying weapons in their vehicles in a legal manner still would be justified in using the weapon if they were being threatened or attacked with serious bodily injury or death, Oberst said.

    However, it is illegal for someone to fire his or her weapon if he or she initiated the incident or did so when no threat was present, Oberst said.

    "You can't start the fight," Oberst said. "If someone pulls a gun on you, you often have to quickly determine if you're being threatened. The law says you must act as a reasonable and prudent person would."

    THE INCIDENT

    Both Olivera and Oates had Glock .40-caliber pistols on them or nearby on the night Olivera was fatally wounded, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner has said.

    Olivera's family members have said Olivera was shot execution-style while he had his back to Oates.

    Olivera was shot six times -- four times in the back, once in the arm and once in the head -- according to the 14th Circuit Court Solicitor's Office. Olivera had a valid concealed weapon permit but never fired his gun, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

    Witnesses said Olivera did not point his gun at Oates, but Nelson Olivera, the victim's brother, told investigators that Carlos Olivera removed the gun tucked in his waistband, showed it to Oates and put it back, Beaufort County Staff Sgt. Angela Viens said during a pre-trial hearing.

    Oates' attorneys, Don Colongeli and John Ferguson, have said Oates acted in self-defense after Olivera verbally threatened Oates' life and brandished a gun.

    Ferguson said Olivera threatened Oates after Oates retreated to his tow truck and relinquished the keys to the boot. He said Olivera stayed at the driver's door of the tow truck and demanded Oates get out, Ferguson said.

    Oates told investigators he had discretely removed his gun from the truck's glove compartment and placed it on the seat during the argument, Viens has said. When he got out of his truck, Oates brought the gun, she testified.

    Oates told investigators he heard what sounded like a gun cock. He said Olivera was in mid-draw when he fired.

    A neighbor's surveillance camera shows Nelson Olivera attempting to remove the boot and Carlos Olivera walking away when Oates fired the first rounds, Solicitor Duffie Stone has said.

    Stone, who will prosecute the case himself, has said the charges against Oates could change as more is learned from the investigation.

    He has said investigators are still piecing together details about the shooting, including how Olivera's gun ended up about 18 feet away from his body. Beaufort County investigators have said it was possible the weapon had been kicked or moved by the large, angry crowd that had gathered.

    The manslaughter case will be presented to a grand jury Feb. 24, when jurors will decide if there is enough evidence to indict Oates, Stone said.

    If the case goes to trial, a jury could have to decide whether Oates was reasonably threatened with serious bodily injury or death.

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