Solicitor won’t prosecute Greenville Co. deputy to avoid potential conflict of interest

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GREENVILLE Co., SC (WSPA) – A deputy’s involvement in a deadly shooting two years ago is the reason the 13th Circuit Solicitor’s Office will no longer prosecute his most recent deputy-involved shooting in Simpsonville, according to Solicitor Walt Wilkins.

Wilkins, who prosecuted deputy Kevin Azzara’s first deputy-involved shooting case in 2017 in Fountain Inn, told 7News Monday that he’s avoiding prosecuting the June shooting of a Simpsonville homeowner due to his past experience with Azzara’s case.

“I felt like reviewing a second officer-involved shooting on somebody might give the appearance of unfairness either way, so it was just better in this particular case to ask another prosecuting agency to handle it,” he said.

Wilkins said he passed off the investigation to the Attorney General’s Office almost immediately after reviewing the body camera footage from the incident, but did not send the official letter requesting it until weeks later.

“I reviewed it with SLED that morning. Once we learned that information of a prior incident, I then just made a decision and told SLED that this would be handled by another prosecuting agency, so we didn’t even have any further conversations about it after that.”  

In 2017 during the first case, Wilkins determined there would be no criminal charges filed against Azarra after he was identified as one of several deputies who shot and killed a man outside of a house in Fountain Inn.

According to records 7 News obtained from SLED, Azzara shot at the man, later identified as Joseph Inabinet, 10 times.

The report narrative explained that Inabinet and his wife were going through a divorce, but in March, he had shown up at her home with a gun. That’s when Azzara was called to the scene.

Inabinet’s family later filed a lawsuit against Azzara and others at the Greenville County Sheriff’s office, alleging excessive force and stating that deputies ignored a warning that Inabinet was suicidal and hoping for ‘suicide by cop.’

According to Azzara’s employment records obtained from the Criminal Justice Academy, he was hired by the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office in 2008 and had previous training and experience in both New Jersey and Missouri. 

Azzara’s second deputy-involved shooting came into the spotlight on July 29th, when Greenville County Sheriff’s Office officials released his body camera footage and the 911 call related to the Simpsonville shooting.

7 News previously reported that the S.C. Law Enforcement Division is investigating the deputy-involved shooting at a home on Eastcrest Drive, following a panic alarm call around 11:50 p.m. June 13.

In a video about the shooting posted online, Greenville County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Tim Brown with the sheriff’s office’s ‘Office of Professional Standards,’ said the first deputy, later identified as Azzara, arrived on-scene just after midnight and noticed movement inside the home.

Brown said Azzara then returned to the front door and saw the homeowner, identified by his attorney as Dick Tench, holding a gun.

“According to the deputy, after noticing the man inside, he illuminates him with his flashlight and as he did so, the man who was initially walking away from the front door turned and pointed his gun at him. In an effort to defend himself against a perceived threat, the deputy fired his issued weapon as he retreated off the porch and subsequently struck the individual multiple times,” Brown said.

The deputy then reportedly went into the home and began to provide Tench medical assistance.

SLED is investigating the shooting.

Meanwhile, Azzara remains on administrative duty pending the result of the investigation.

The 13th Circuit Solicitor’s Office created a Critical Incident Use-of-Force Investigation policy in April 2018. To read it, click here.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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