State police have cleared a South Carolina park ranger of any wrongdoing after an investigation into the shooting of an unarmed man at a McCormick County resort park last year.
The Attorney General’s Office confirmed Monday it found the ranger used “lawful and appropriate force” when faced with a Batesburg-Leesville man who had been acting erratically before the November 2017 incident at Hickory Knob State Resort Park.
47-year-old Robert Stills was taken to a hospital after the shooting, but eventually recovered and was charged a month later with breaking into a motor vehicle, as well as second-degree assault and battery.
The State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) turned the case over to the AG’s Office earlier this year. Those documents were released last week under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). SLED had already announced the charges against Stills. The assault charge was filed because a McCormick County said Stills punched him after the incident.
In their report, SLED agents said several witnesses reported seeing Stills get into a park employee’s car. One employee called the ranger, who confronted Stills and ordered him out of the vehicle. The ranger told investigators Stills was did not follow orders, but eventually got out with his hands behind his back. The ranger said Stills suddenly charged him and yelled “Shoot me!” repeatedly.
The ranger said he shot Stills, worried the larger man could go for his gun. A McCormick County deputy then arrived at the scene and helped restrain Stills with handcuffs. When EMS arrived, the deputy unlocked the cuffs to bring Stills’ arms around to the front of his body. The deputy said Stills then punched him before the authorities were able to replace the handcuffs.
South Carolina Radio Network is not identifying the ranger or deputy involved since neither is accused of wrongdoing. The State Parks Service had put the ranger on leave during the investigation.
Stills told investigators who met him in the hospital that he thought the car was his own. Stills’ family told investigators he was a diagnosed bipolar schizophrenic who had recently stopped his treatment — although their accounts disagreed as to whether he had been told to do so by Department of Mental Health employees or had stopped on his own. The family members were unsure why Stills was staying in the park.
Hickory Knob is a state-owned resort park located along Lake Strom Thurmond in McCormick County. It includes a golf course, restaurant, cabins and campground for visitors.