Beaufort News

Security officer shoots at fleeing SUV in Hilton Head Plantation; suspect charged

A Hilton Head Plantation security officer shot at an SUV driven by a recent high school graduate Tuesday night out of fear another officer would be run over, according to an arrest warrant.

The shot caused the vehicle to lose momentum and slightly strike the officer's leg, according to Hilton Head Plantation general manager Peter Kristian.

Philip Maximilian Natoli, 18, faces charges of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature and failure to stop for blue lights, according to a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office release. He was being held Wednesday night at the Beaufort County Detention Center. Bond was set at $78,000, according to the jail log.

Natoli was listed as a graduate in Hilton Head Island High School's commencement ceremony held earlier that night.

The incident began at about 11:15 p.m. when Sgt. Ed Sutton was patrolling the Adventure Galley Lane area and saw someone driving erratically, Kristian said.

When the driver of the white 1999 Ford Explorer, which was stopped in the middle of Adventure Galley Lane, saw the security officer, he backed into a private driveway, damaging some landscaping, according to the Sheriff's Office release.

The officer requested backup and approached the vehicle, the release said. A second security officer, Sgt. Joseph Farmer, responded. As Farmer stood in front of the stopped SUV, its driver restarted the engine, revved it and began to drive toward Farmer, according to Kristian.

Sutton, fearing Farmer would be struck by the SUV, fired into the rear tire on the driver's side, Kristian said. Farmer jumped from of the vehicle's path, but was struck in the left leg by the SUV as it passed. He was uninjured and cleared to return to work, Kristian said.

The SUV sped off, and security officers called the Sheriff's Office. Officers from both agencies followed a trial of tire debris to a home on Pheasant Run Road, where they found the SUV in the garage, according to Kristian. There, Natoli was identified as the driver and arrested, according to the Sheriff's Office release.

Kristian said Sutton has been placed on paid administrative leave -- a routine procedure -- while the Sheriff's Office investigates the incident, including the discharge of the weapon.

Sheriff P.J. Tanner said the charges filed against Natoli were appropriate.

If convicted of the assault charges, Natoli faces up to 20 years in prison, according to the 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office.

Kristian said security-team members felt that Sutton made the right choice in firing his weapon to stop Farmer from being seriously injured.

"When something like this occurs, we have to make sure everything was done according to protocol," he said. "The good news is, no one was hurt and the Sheriff's Office caught the individual."