The Myrtle Beach man who was shot by police during a drug raid at his home in April now faces three charges of pointing and presenting a firearm, his attorney said Friday.
Julian Betton, 30, had already been charged with three counts of possession with intent to distribute marijuana in connection with the case. Drug agents say they used a confidential informant to purchase marijuana from Betton twice before serving search and arrest warrants at his Withers Swash apartment on April 16.
During the raid, police say they rammed Betton’s door open. Once inside, he pointed a handgun at them, prompting three officers to shoot him multiple times.
That account differs from the account authorities told for weeks after the shooting. They initially said Betton fired at the officers, forcing them to return fire.
An investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division concluded that Betton never fired his weapon.
Kevin Brackett, an independent prosecutor who reviewed the case, said the fact that Betton didn’t fire is meaningless and the officers were justified in shooting him.
None of the agents — Frank Waddell of the Coastal Carolina University Police Department; Chris Dennis of the Horry County Sheriff’s Office and Myrtle Beach Police Officer David Belue — will be charged.
Betton was shot nine times and is paralyzed from the waist down. He wasn’t charged with any crime until June 29, when police filed the three drug warrants.
A probable cause hearing for two of Betton’s drug charges was held on Friday in Conway. There was no hearing for the third charge, which stems from the 222 grams (about 8 ounces) of marijuana that was seized during the raid, because prosecutors opted for a direct indictment.
Betton’s lawyer, Jonny McCoy, said he found it unusual that only the charges tied to the drug buys received a probable cause hearing. He also said he hasn’t received most of the documents about the case from prosecutors.
“We still have yet to see anything quantifiable about what actually took place inside the house other than Julian’s bullet holes,” he said.
We were told initially that Julian fired first. One officer allegedly said one time and there was also another report that he fired multiple times. Two or three months later, we’re told by an investigating source of the police agencies, SLED, that Julian never fired his weapon.
Jonny McCoy, Julian Betton’s attorney
“So obviously there are a lot of questions unanswered. … There are red flags being raised, McCoy said.”
Although Friday’s probable cause hearing was supposed to focus on the two drug purchases, more details about the raid emerged during McCoy’s questioning of Chad Guess, a Coastal Carolina University police officer who oversaw Betton’s marijuana investigation.
Guess serves on the 15th Circuit Drug Enforcement Unit, which consists of officers from various local agencies and falls under the supervision of the solicitor’s office.
Guess testified that he didn’t know about Betton before meeting the confidential informant, a young woman, through another agent.
The woman told Guess she knew Betton sold marijuana. Under police supervision, she made two $100 purchases: 7 grams on March 24 and 8 grams on April 7, according to the agent’s testimony.
Early on, Guess said, officers knew little about Betton. Before the first pot purchase, they had an idea of what he looked like because of photos posted on social media. They eventually pulled his criminal history, which included a conviction for trafficking cocaine in Ohio.
During the second pot purchase at Betton’s apartment, Guess said agents recorded the sale. On the video, he said, police could see an assault rifle.
“You can see the muzzle of the AR,” he said.
Police later received photos of a .38 revolver Betton owned, Guess said.
Although federal law prohibits felons from owning firearms, Guess said police couldn’t charge Betton with weapons violations under state statute because of differences between the drug laws in Ohio and South Carolina.
“The bottom line is he had those guns in the house while he was dealing drugs,” Guess said.
Were any of those shots fired by the actual person you arrested?” I can’t say.
Guess’ response to McCoy
Despite overseeing the April 16 raid, Guess provided limited details about the shooting. He said about 12 officers went to Betton’s apartment that day. Guess was part of the team responsible for ramming the door open.
When McCoy asked him if officers knocked and announced they were serving the warrants, Guess testified that he heard them do so as he approached the door.
“Don’t know who did it,” he said. “We encountered a civilian at the bottom of the steps going up to the door who heard the knock and announce [too].”
After his team hit the door, Guess said he also yelled “police search warrant.”
“At that time, I couldn’t see anybody,” he said. “I was announcing it to whoever was in there.”
Once the door was open, Guess said other officers entered the home. Within seconds, he heard shots.
“Were any of those shots fired by the actual person you arrested?” McCoy asked Guess, referring to Betton.
“I can’t say,” the officer responded.
After the shooting, Guess said he went inside and found Betton with a handgun gun lying beside him. He began rendering aid for the man’s gunshot wounds.
Friday’s hearing concluded with Judge Aaron Butler determining that police had probable cause for the arrest warrants in the marijuana case.
After the hearing, McCoy said the prosecutor showed him additional warrants for Betton on the pointing and presenting charges. McCoy said those charges stem from the officers who say Betton pulled a gun when they went into his home. The attorney pointed out that those are the same officers who were wrong about Betton shooting at them.
“All three said Julian fired first,” he said. “SLED said there’s no evidence that Julian fired his gun at all. Not first, not second, not 50th. He just took nine shots and 50 around his apartment.”
In interviews with The Sun News, Betton has denied shooting at police or even pointing a gun at them. On the day of the shooting, he said he remembers walking out of the bathroom and seeing figures moving in his apartment. Betton said he thought he was being robbed because that had happened to him before.
McCoy said none of the witnesses his team has interviewed heard police announce their presence before going into Betton’s apartment.
Although none of the shooting was captured on video, a police officer who responded to the scene afterwards was wearing a body camera. Authorities have said they have an audio recording of Betton saying he did not mean to shoot at police, “if I did shoot.”