An officer who fatally shot a mentally ill man who charged at him with 10-inch garden shears acted within the law, the Mecklenburg District Attorney’s Office announced on Thursday.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer O.S. Swenson was cleared of wrongdoing in the Sept. 14 shooting of Clay McCall.
“Swenson had no choice but to use deadly force,” the narrative released by the DA’s office reads. “His actions were justified under North Carolina law.”
McCall, 26, had a history of violence, authorities say. He fatally shot his father in 2006 in Charlotte, records show, and later pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter after spending years in mental institutions.
McCall was shot after his grandmother, Lula McGrath, locked him out of her house in the Quail Acres neighborhood off Ballantyne Commons Parkway, saying she couldn’t control him. She then called a mental health caseworker, who called police.
History of violence
Swenson was the first officer to arrive, but was asked by other officers to not approach the house without backup because “the officers knew, through multiple sources, that McCall was mentally ill and had a history of violence, including a conviction for voluntary manslaughter.”
Ultimately, officers encountered McCall in the cluttered garage where he slept.
They described him as agitated, disoriented, and uncooperative, according to the District Attorney’s Office narrative. At some point, the health care professional left to get papers to involuntarily commit McCall to a mental institution. She described the officers as calm and professional, but said McCall grew increasingly agitated.
As the officers stood talking and negotiating with McCall, they began to worry about their safety, the District Attorney’s Office statement said. They asked McCall to empty his pockets. He refused. They asked him to step away from a box of tools. Again, he refused.
“Without warning, McCall grabbed a pair of gardening shears with dual blades approximately 10 inches long and charged Officer Swenson,” the statement said. “Officer Swenson backed up while drawing and firing his service weapon two times.”
Neighbors told the Observer they didn’t know McCall, but that he showed up at his grandmother’s house just days before the shooting.
Years in mental institutions
He’d spent the last six years in jail or in mental institutions after fatally shooting his father in 2006, according to court records. He was institutionalized in 2007 after placing a bag over his head in an apparent suicide attempt in jail.
Court documents filed after that incident described him as psychotic. He was thin and made infrequent eye contact. At times, he would smile for no apparent reason. Initial diagnoses suggested schizophrenia and recommended psychiatric hospitalization.
In the hospital, he improved. A 2008 report said he was healthy enough to stand trial. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in his father’s death.
The Mecklenburg Area Mental Health Authority said he had been screened for the Mecklenburg Open Door program, a program that helps mentally ill people get housing and services, but he was not accepted. Staff members said he couldn’t administer his own medications and might be manipulated by more street-wise participants.
Instead, the county recommended he move to an assisted-living facility or group home. But McCall had no health insurance to cover the costs.
Relative: Shots not needed
It’s unclear when he moved in with his grandmother.
McGrath, who has criticized police, saying they could have shot him in the leg or wrestled the shears away from her grandson, said McCall was trying to move on after the killing and institutionalization.
“He was looking forward to really getting on with his life and get a place to stay and get a job. ... We were trying to help him.” Staff writer Meghan Cooke and staff researcher Marion Paynter contributed.