Julian Ray Betton no longer faces the gun charges officers cited as their reason for shooting him multiple times when they entered his home with a battering ram in a drug raid two years ago. The shooting left Betton paralyzed.
Betton, now 32, pleaded guilty to a count of marijuana distribution and a count of marijuana possession with intent to distribute, sitting before a judge on a gurney inside an Horry County Courtroom Thursday morning. Five other charges lodged against him in the case, including three counts claiming Betton pointed a gun at the officers who shot him nine times, were dropped in the plea deal.
Judge Larry Hyman, Jr., sentenced Betton to five years for each charge, but suspended the sentences as “time served.”
Betton filed a lawsuit against the 15th Circuit Drug Enforcement Unit and the officers who shot him, claiming the agents entered his home without announcing they were police and gunned him down without him ever firing a weapon.
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The lawsuit was put on hold until the criminal case could be wrapped up, according to Betton’s attorney, Jonny McCoy.
DEU officers charged Betton with four counts of marijuana possession with the intent to distribute after an informant purchased marijuana from Betton twice in an undercover operation. The recorded purchases helped agents obtain an arrest warrant for Betton and a search warrant for his Withers Swash apartment where officers say they found 222 grams (nearly 8 ounces) of the drug during the raid on April 16, 2015.
The gun charges were filed seven months later when the three officers, who shot Betton, claimed he had pulled a gun on them. But the story of how officers entered the home and the shooting that followed remains in dispute.
DEU agents told state investigators that they knocked and announced their presence before entering Betton’s home as their warrant required. Video surveillance footage from a motion-activated camera on Betton’s porch, however, showed that any “knock” likely came from the thundering hit of a battering ram used to open the door.
The video obtained by The Sun News in 2015 does not include audio and agents said body cameras were not activated at the time so it remains unclear what, if anything, was said.
In his lawsuit, Betton claims he was walking out of the bathroom when he was startled by armed strangers - one wearing a mask, some with backward baseball caps, but all wearing bulletproof vests - in his apartment. Betton had a gun in his waistband, but claims he never tried to shoot it.
Police originally said they fired at Betton when he started shooting at them. They later admitted that wasn’t true.
Like all police-involved shootings in South Carolina, the case was investigated by the State Law Enforcement Division. The SLED investigation found Betton never fired the gun in his waistband. But officers said they knew he had a gun and in the chaos of the moment they feared their lives and the lives of the other agents in the room were in danger.
An independent prosecutor reviewed the state agency’s findings and concluded that the officers acted in self defense.
Bradley Bannon, a prominent lawyer who grew up in Myrtle Beach and gained notoriety working to exonerate three Duke University lacrosse players falsely accused of rape, joined Betton’s legal team last year.
The drug enforcement agents targeted in the lawsuit claim Betton’s injuries and damages were caused by Betton’s own acts of “negligence.”