Former York Co. lieutenant recalls emotional trauma after shooting, killing suspect

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comApril 5, 2014 

Bubbles and blood poured from the dead man’s chest. Smoke plumed from the barrel of Pat Kiefer’s shotgun.

Gunshots pierced the air. Fire burned in the background. Kiefer dry-heaved for at least 10 minutes. His life had just changed.

On April 21, 2002 – a Sunday – he killed a man.

There was no malice or forethought, legally required to prove murder. There was no criminal negligence or reckless disregard for another’s safety, needed to prove involuntary manslaughter. There was necessity. There was survival. There was home or a casket.

“If you’ve never stood in our shoes, you have no idea … you have no idea,” said Kiefer, then a lieutenant with the York County Sheriff’s Office.

Terrance Knox now has an idea.

On Feb. 25, the York County deputy shot Bobby Canipe, 70, as he reached for a cane in the bed of his Ford pickup during a traffic stop on U.S. 321 outside Clover.

A day after the shooting, which left Canipe hospitalized with a gunshot wound to his chest, the Sheriff’s Office called Knox’s actions “appropriate.” Two weeks later, they released dashboard camera video of the incident. Knox fired about six shots. One hit Canipe. Once Knox saw the cane, he began to sob.

Knox has been placed on administrative leave pending the completion of an investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division, which investigates all officer-involved shootings. Once SLED finishes its investigation, agents will hand the case file to the 16th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, which will decide whether charges will be filed.

Use-of-force policies allow officers to shoot suspects if they deem there is an imminent and credible threat to their life or safety.

“It is all up to what Deputy Knox perceived,” said Kiefer, now the chief investigator with the York County Public Defenders Office who works with the S.C. Law Enforcement Assistance Program peer team. “It was all as to how he perceived the scene.

“I can’t speak for him ... I can’t say a word for him; I was not in his shoes, I was not standing there. Nobody can tell you how they would have done it, because you don’t know. You weren’t there. A threat is a threat, regardless of how you look at it.”

April 21, 2002

The call came into the sheriff’s office as a house fire on Flintlock Drive. Gregory Allan Seymour, 41, was holding firefighters at gunpoint.

“As soon as they gave the address out,” Kiefer said, “I knew exactly where it was because we … had been out there twice before that weekend. It was a domestic situation.”

In those earlier visits, Seymour had wanted to kick his wife out of the house. Deputies explained to him, twice, that they could not forcibly remove her because she lived there. He would have to take his complaint to civil court. He wasn’t satisfied.

So on April 21, 2002, Seymour set his house ablaze. Long-barreled weapon in hand, Seymour threatened to shoot firefighters if they tried to put out the flames. His wife and three children were nowhere in sight.

“First thing that came to my mind,” Kiefer said, “because we had been out there all weekend, was that he killed his family and put them in the fire and burned the house.”

When Kiefer arrived on the scene, he saw Seymour standing in the middle of the road in front of his house. He was holding the gun and a bowie knife. Kiefer clutched his shotgun. He walked to meet Seymour, who by this time was sitting on the side of a hill, drinking a beer. Kiefer tried to start a conversation.

“It was like talking to a wall,” he said. “He just didn’t respond at all. I just kept yelling stuff to him: ‘You want to talk?’ ‘You want to talk about it?’ ‘Is there something going on?’”

No answer.

More deputies arrived, huddling around Kiefer’s car, parked in the center of the road. A hostage negotiator began speaking with Seymour. The man was unyielding.

“It just seemed like it was going from bad to worse,” Kiefer said. “The whole situation just seemed like it was getting worse by the minute.”

The SWAT team was on its way, in case a chase ensued. As the hostage negotiator tried to convince Seymour to put down his weapons, Seymour walked to the middle of the road. The negotiator told him, “You don’t have to end it this way.”

“I remember him kind of glaring at us, just looking right at us and saying, ‘Well, somebody’s going to end it,’” Kiefer said.

Seymour began yelling “all kinds of gibberish,” Kiefer said. Then he started walking back toward his house. He grabbed gas cans and tossed them into the inferno. Kiefer drove his car toward the house and got out, standing behind his patrol car as cover. He laid his shotgun across the hood. Other deputies took cover, following Seymour back to his yard.

Seymour walked back toward the front of Kiefer’s car. Kiefer yelled “over and over” that he needed to drop his weapons. Seymour looked to his right, then to his left. He took a step toward Kiefer and raised his gun to his shoulder.

Kiefer didn’t hesitate.

“I pulled a round … shot him dead center in the chest,” he said. “He didn’t fall down.”

Kiefer racked his shotgun again. This time, he would aim for the head, but he didn’t get the chance. Other deputies fired at Seymour. Still, Kiefer knows his was the fatal shot.

Seymour fell over backward. Kiefer shouted for other deputies to cover him as he ran to Seymour, stepped on his arm, brushed the gun out of his hand and got the knife away from him. There was a hole in his chest. It gashed blood and “red ... air bubbles,” Kiefer said.

“And that was it.”

Aftermath

A detective took Kiefer’s service weapons. An investigation began.

“I just got this massive sick feeling that came over me, just unbelievable,” Kiefer said. He ran behind an ambulance and dry-heaved for 10 to 15 minutes. Once it was over, he gave a statement to investigators. He didn’t make it home until after midnight.

The next several days were a blur, spent mostly in a “state of numbness,” Kiefer said.

“There’s all kinds of emotions that run through your mind,” he said. “You replay it over and over in your head. You think about it all day long. You’re always second-guessing what you should’ve done.”

Kiefer avoided reading or watching the news. His phone rang and rang.

“You have a lot of people call you on the phone and say, ‘Hey man, tell me what happened,’” Kiefer said. “There’s only certain people you really want to talk to.”

He was out of work for two months before SLED investigators cleared him of wrongdoing.

“I felt that I had done everything I could have possibly done; I felt that his actions warranted what I had done,” Kiefer said. “His reactions caused me to do what I did.”

Those reactions place officers in vulnerable positions, he said, where they must make split-second decisions and live with the consequences.

“Police officers love to be in control because it makes you feel safer,” Kiefer said. “But that one second when you’re out of control, and you’ve got to make a decision that you normally probably wouldn’t do on an everyday basis … will unsettle you like you’ve never seen.”

‘It almost destroyed us’

Pat and Sharon Kiefer had been married for just more than a year when he killed Seymour. The trauma of an officer-involved shooting, Sharon Kiefer said, brings “trouble into the family.”

There’s no manual that comes with marrying a police officer, she said, “nothing to guide you and say, ‘OK, if your husband or your wife ... is involved in an incident where they had to take another life, how are you supposed to respond to your spouse when they come home? What are you supposed to say?

“There’s nothing that prepares you for that.”

The key: “You have to understand,” she said. “You have to communicate.”

For the Kiefers, that proved to be a challenge.

Pat Kiefer went into “protect mode” with his wife and daughter. Sharon Kiefer went into “protect mode” to shield her husband from negative comments and media coverage.

“In protecting each other so much, we clashed,” Sharon Kiefer said. “You’re not communicating with each other, and that’s where a lot of the breakdown comes. If you’ve got a strong marriage and this happens, it could still break it.”

“It almost wrecked our marriage,” Pat Kiefer said. “It almost destroyed us. The whole thing did. Had it not been for the help that we got through (the S.C. Law Enforcement Assistance Program), I don’t know where we would have gone with it. I really don’t.”

Together, they attended counseling sessions. They learned to speak with each other about the situation, not at each other. They learned they were both angry.

Pat Kiefer was “enraged” after he learned Seymour had been wielding a pellet gun, not a rifle.

“This guy had made me kill him over a pellet gun,” Kiefer said. “And I think that’s what really enraged me the most. He knew. He knew that gun wasn’t real.”

Investigators later found a six-page suicide note Seymour left in his mailbox. In it, he described how he planned to burn himself to death in the house.

“I guess he chickened out and caused us to do it,” Kiefer said.

Sharon Kiefer admits she’s still angry with Seymour.

“I was so mad at him for making Pat make that decision ... and for Pat to be put in that position that he might not have come home that night,” she said. “He never should have been forced to make that decision.”

That fatal decision has created for the Kiefers what Sharon Kiefer calls a “new normal.”

“When Pat left to go to work that night ... Pat was Pat,” she said. “When Pat came home that Monday morning, Pat was a different Pat. Your life as it was when your spouse left to go to work is not the same life it’s going to be when they come home.”

Helping

Police officers are not trained to kill, but they are trained to shoot a suspect – if necessary – in the head or center of a target’s body, said David Klinger, an associate professor and police use-of-force expert at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

“Obviously, shots to those areas are going to have a greater likelihood of causing death,” he said. “Officers aren’t trained to shoot to kill. They’re trained to shoot to stop. The goal is to stop the threat, whatever that is … the guy’s got a gun, the guy’s got a knife.

“Officers are trained when there’s a threat that warrants the use of deadly force, you shoot until the threat is gone. If it takes one round and the person stops, then you stop. If it takes multiple rounds, you fire as many rounds as you need to fire to stop the threat.”

There’s an emotional drawback that comes with pulling the trigger. Klinger has spoken with officers who display a gamut of reactions.

Some officers even have a “neutral response,” he said, “like, ‘Oh crap, this is bad,’ and then they move on.”

For officers who shoot someone who, in the end, never meant any harm, “it’s a question of self-identity,” Klinger said. They say, “‘I’m supposed to be a professional, then I made this mistake.’ It’s an issue of simple humanity ... that they’ve harmed someone who didn’t need to be harmed.”

Officers never expect to have to shoot a suspect, Kiefer said.

“But once it does, it changes your whole life forever,” he said. “My life, my outlook on law enforcement, and the way I did my job when I came back was all different. I was more aware of things; I was more vigilant.

“I didn’t take anything for granted, but I also found out I really have more of a passion for people, too.”

Three months after he killed Seymour, Kiefer attended a seminar hosted by the S.C. Law Enforcement Assistance Program, whose members are on call around the clock, available to go to counties where officers are involved in critical situations and offer support to them and their families. He later joined as a peer member.

Whenever there’s an officer-involved shooting, Kiefer travels to the incident location and speaks with the officers. He walks them through what they can expect mentally and emotionally in the aftermath of a tragic incident.

He debriefs them. He ensures the officers aren’t suffering any “immediate traumatic stress … that’s going to be a cause for alarm.” He explains to them that sickness, insomnia and regret are normal. Some, he said, just need a listening ear.

“Each individual is going to react differently to a critical incident,” he said. The most important thing is “not to hide your emotions. ... You’ve got to have some way to let them out.

“It’s something I would say, kind of like my belief in God, this was something that was supposed to happen to me, and I’m supposed to take it and help other people.”

One of those people is Terrance Knox.

“He’s got a long road ahead of him,” Kiefer said. “He’s going to have to get back on the firing range. He’s got some things that the department will require him to do, make sure he’s fit for duty. I think he’s going to be fine.”

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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