On March 19, 2016, businessman Allen Stephenson shot and killed a man trespassing on his South Carolina estate.
Authorities say the 32-year-old founder of the clothing company Southern Tide fatally shot Matthew Whitman as he refused to stop trespassing the grounds of the estate, walking down a quarter-mile-long driveway leading from a locked gate to the home.
According to Sheriff Steve Loftis, Stephenson’s girlfriend called 911 to report a trespasser on the property. Stephenson stood on his porch and advised Whitman to stop, even firing two warning shots in the air from a shotgun.
According to Loftis, Stephenson then approached Whitman, who tried to stab him with a folding hunting knife. At that point, the sheriff said, Stephenson “fired five times, hitting Whitman three times —in the arm, face and chest”.
Prosecutor Walt Wilkins held a press conference to announce Stephenson will not face charges in the shooting death of Whitman, confirming he acted in self defense:
Wilkins said Stephenson was legally standing his ground on his property, defending himself and his girlfriend, and therefore was immune from prosecution.
“He was justified in shooting the suspect under the circumstances and the facts that we have,” Wilkins said of Stephenson. “He was in harm or fear of death or injury to his person.”
Whitman lived a little more than a mile from Stephenson’s home, but Wilkins said there is “zero evidence” the men knew each other or had ever had any prior communication. The prosecutor also said testing had not been completed on whether Whitman was under the influence of alcohol or drugs when he was shot.
In a statement, the Whitman family said it was “disappointed” in the decision not to charge Stephenson, according to what family attorneys had heard on the 911 call.
“The 911 operator and the witness both pleaded with Mr. Stephenson to return inside,” the family statement said. “Matthew, at worst, was simply trespassing that morning.”
In a statement, an attorney for Stephenson said his client “is deeply saddened” by the shooting but was left with “no alternative than to defend himself and his fiancee.”
The attorney, Sloan Ellis, provided an incident report describing a February 2016 instance during which Whitman’s family called 911 after he broke a vase at his grandmother’s home and acted erratically, also noting that he had “spent most of his time locked in his bedroom” for several years prior.
Wilkins said Whitman was not charged as a result of that incident, and police reports indicate deputies referred his family to available mental health resources.
Wilkins has declined to discuss Whitman’s mental health history.