Off-duty officer charged with murder after shooting man in South Carolina parking lot, agents say

Apr 10, 2024, 11:38 AM | Updated: 5:14 pm

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — An off-duty police officer in South Carolina was charged with murder Wednesday after state investigators said he shot a man trying to drive away after the two fought in a fast food restaurant parking lot.

Anthony DeLustro told investigators he was trying to stop the man from leaving after the fight and had gotten into the passenger seat of the victim’s car as the man told him to get out and began driving off, according to a sworn statement from the State Law Enforcement Division.

DeLustro, 64, said he shot Michael O’Neal because he feared he might get trapped under the moving vehicle, but state agents said someone restraining DeLustro after the fight heard him threaten to shoot the 39-year-old man if he tried to leave.

O’Neal never had a weapon or threatened to use a weapon during the fight, which involved kicks and punches in the parking lot of a Chick-fil-A in Summerville on March 20, state agents said.

DeLustro started his career with police in New York City and worked there for 22 years before moving to South Carolina in 2003, according to his police training records.

If convicted of murder, DeLustro faces 30 years to life in prison.

At a hearing Wednesday night where bond was denied, DeLustro said he has dedicated his life to public service since he was 21. He said he was at Ground Zero after the 2001 terrorist attacks and got cancer and hasn’t had a substantiated complaint against him in 35 years of policing.

DeLustro didn’t talk about the shooting, but said he and his wife lost a daughter in 2021 and are raising two granddaughters ages 13 and 10.

“I just ask you for mercy so I can help my wife with the girls while we go through this,” DeLustro said in his bond hearing streamed by WCSC-TV in Charleston.

Before DeLustro’s arrest, O’Neal’s family released a statement on a Gofundme page saying they were optimistic that state police would find the truth.

“This is a family that has a great deal of respect for law enforcement in general, yet is fully aware that no profession is free of bad actors,” they wrote.

Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson thanked the family for acting with dignity and grace as state agents thoroughly investigated the shooting.

“Eyewitness cooperation has been vital,” Wilson said in a statement.

State agents didn’t detail why O’Neal and DeLustro started fighting, but said DeLustro initiated the altercation, yelling at O’Neal “do you want to do this?” and using an anti-gay slur.

DeLustro, who was not working that day, told O’Neal he was under arrest during the fight and showed him his law enforcement credentials, agents said.

During the fight, DeLustro’s gun fell out of its holster and the officer’s wife tried to hold O’Neal during the fight and as he tried to get into his car, according to the sworn statement.

Someone was holding DeLustro back as O’Neal tried to leave, but DeLustro got away, grabbed his gun off the pavement and then got into O’Neal’s car, state agents said.

DeLustro told agents he was acting in self-defense, but investigators said he recklessly put himself into danger and O’Neal was not a threat when he was killed.

DeLustro will have another chance at bond at a later hearing.

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Off-duty officer charged with murder after shooting man in South Carolina parking lot, agents say