COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD)- A Columbia convenience store owner who allegedly shot and killed a 14-year-old he thought was stealing has shot at shoplifters on two previous occasions, according to authorities.
Rick Chow, 58, is facing a murder charge after deputies say he chased after and fatally shot Cyrus Carmack Belton on Sunday night.
According to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, officers have responded to hundreds of calls for service at the Xpress Mart Shell gas station on Parklane Road over the past five years. The calls included assaults, larceny shoplifting, motor vehicle theft, vandalism, robbery, and burglary.
In 2015, authorities said that Chow attempted to stop an individual from stealing items and the individual threatened to shoot Chow. As the individual got into a vehicle outside the store, Chow fired approximately six shots. No one was injured.
Years later, in 2018, Chow would again confront a shoplifter. The shoplifter assaulted Chow and Chow fired two shots, hitting the individual in the leg. The shoplifter later pleaded guilty to charges stemming from that incident, according to officials.
The sheriff’s department said Chow faced no charges in those cases because investigators determined Chow acted in self-defense and the incidents “did not meet the requirements under South Carolina law to support criminal charges.”
Sunday’s incident, however, “rose to that level,” Sheriff Leon Lott said, adding that the shooting was “senseless” and unjustified.
Chow had suspected that Carmack-Belton stole bottles of water. However, deputies said during a news conference that there was no evidence anything was stolen.
“Even if he had shoplifted four bottles of water, which he had taken out of the cooler and then put back — even if he had done that, that’s not something you should shoot anybody over, much less a 14-year-old,” Lott said. “You just don’t do that.”
A gun was found near the teen’s body and Chow’s son told his father that Carmack-Belton was armed after the youth fell as he ran, according to the sheriff. But Lott said there was no evidence the boy ever pointed the weapon at Chow or his son.
Richland County Coroner Nadia Rutherford said there was no sign that the men got into a fight before Carmack-Belton ran out of the store and added that the teen died from a single gunshot wound to his lower back.
Rutherford added that the injury was “consistent with someone who was running away from the assailant” and that it was “not an accidental shooting by any means.”
On Monday night, Chow’s store was vandalized after Lott said that a group of people not affiliated with peaceful protestors broke into the store, shattered windows, and stole merchandise.
“What does stealing a case of beer have to do with a 14-year-old being shot and the store owner being charged with murder?” Lott asked during a Tuesday press conference.
Lott said he plans to identify and charge those involved, adding that deputies have been allocated to guard the store.
Chow is being held at the Richland County Detention Center. A bond hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Investigators are working with prosecutors to determine whether Chow or his son will face additional charges, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department said.
For further information or questions on any charges please refer to the Solicitor’s Office.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.