Richland County authorities have now identified a man who died in a shootout with a US Marshals task force trying to arrest him in southeast Columbia Monday.
Sheriff Leon Lott announced in a Tuesday press conference that 42-year-old Damon James had been wanted for murder charges in Houston after his ex-girlfriend was shot on her way to work in October 2014. The coroner’s office has not yet released its autopsy results, but Lott said James appeared to have shot himself after he was seriously injured by law enforcement.
Columbia Police said a task force consisting of US marshals, State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) agents, and Columbia officers moved to arrest James on Monday morning. Spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons said the suspect was working on his car at the Byron Apartments complex when they approached.
James had been wanted ever since he skipped a Houston court appearance in January 2015. Harris County authorities say James was charged with murder in the killing of ex-girlfriend Rita Salton. Salton was killed shortly after leaving her apartment three months earlier. Police initially investigated the case as an armed robbery, but later charged James in her death.
Lott said James tried to flee but returned to his vehicle and pulled out a gun. Columbia Police say James opened fire as the officers approached. “The preliminary information that we have is that the suspect is accused of opening fire first and officers assigned to the task force returning fire,” spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons told reporters on the scene Monday.
The Sheriff’s Office said James was shot several times in his upper body during the ensuing shootout. But Lott said it appeared the Texas fugitive crawled back into his car and shot himself as officers closed in. He was taken to a nearby hospital, but later died. The sheriff said James’s injuries sustained during the fight had been life-threatening, but Coroner Gary Watts ruled his death a suicide due to how the fight ended.
No officers were injured during the incident.
Since Columbia officers and SLED agents were part of the task force in the officer-involved shooting, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department is leading the investigation.