The 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office has cleared two Myrtle Beach police officers of any criminal wrongdoing in an Oct. 12 shooting that killed a Loris man.
Cpl. Daniel Preciado and patrolman Thad Morgan were both involved in the shooting that happened just after 2 a.m. on that date near the intersection of 65th Avenue North and Wedgewood Drive.
Matthew Graham, 32, died in the shooting.
Preciado has 15 years of law enforcement experience and Morgan has been an officer for five years. Neither man was injured in the shooting.
“We continue to support our officers who had to make a very difficult decision," Myrtle Beach Police Department Chief Amy Prock said in a statement. “These decisions are not taken lightly, and any loss of life is tragic. Our officers performed their duty to the high standard of professionalism and accountability that we expect. We appreciate the community’s continued support for our team."
Per MBPD protocol, the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigated the shooting and provided its findings to the solicitor's office.
In a Dec. 18 letter to SLED Special Agent Ashley Soucy, Chief Deputy Solicitor Scott Hixson said that based on what was uncovered during the state agency’s investigation, “there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on behalf of [Preciado and Morgan] in this unfortunate loss of life.”
“Your report makes it clear that the subject, Mr. Graham, was previously identified prior to the shooting as having arrest warrants for discharging a weapon in the city limits and was a suspect in several area burglaries,” Hixson wrote.
“Officers of the Myrtle Beach Police Department investigated a call earlier that evening about an AR-15 style rifle having been stolen in a residential burglary. A white bicycle had also been reported stolen from the garage of a residence in the area as well.”
The letter says officers were looking for Graham and knew he frequented the area around 65th Avenue North.
Police had spoken with a convenience store clerk several days earlier in an attempt to locate the subject and asked the clerk to call the police if she came into contact with him.
The clerk ended up seeing Graham, Hixson wrote, and told him the police were searching for him.
“According to statements taken during your investigation, the subject responded by telling the clerk that ‘he wasn’t going back to jail, that they would have to kill him,’” Hixson’s letter reads.
The clerk called the MBPD and said she saw Graham around 11 p.m. on Oct. 11, and officers were dispatched to the area to look for him.
Police saw him in the area of the Circle K at 6501 North Kings Highway “carrying a rifle wrapped in some clothing,” according to the letter.
Officers began a foot pursuit which resulted in Graham running behind some private homes.
Backup was requested to help contain the “armed subject” once he entered a person’s fenced-in backyard, Hixson wrote.
“During this time, officers positively identified Graham brandishing the weapon and tried for several hours to negotiate with him to drop the rifle, come out and surrender to police over one of the patrol car’s address system [sic],” the letter says.
“The subject did not comply, and instead entered the home owners [sic] shed, took a ladder and climbed over the fence with the rifle.
“Officers continued to believe the subject was still hiding in this unlit backyard until they heard a gunshot coming from the direction of Highway 17 Bypass.”
Some of the officers headed toward the sound of the gunfire.
According to the chief deputy solicitor’s letter, SLED’s investigation shows Graham was seen riding a white bicycle toward 65th Avenue North in possession of the “AR-15 style rifle.”
Officers got out of their patrol cars and started chasing him again on foot.
The bike collided with a raised curb, and Graham fell, landing in a ditch beside the street.
The state agency’s investigation indicates that Graham recovered from the fall, rolled back toward the street and grabbed the rifle, “pointing the muzzle of the weapon at the officers,” the letter said.
The officers told him to drop the gun several times before firing on the subject.
“These actions are captured and corroborated through video evidence of the incident,” the letter said.
Hixson wrote that there is substantial evidence to show Graham had pending warrants for his arrest for unlawfully firing a weapon in the city and was “brandishing a loaded AR-15 style rifle in a manner that threatened the safety and lives of the officers and general public that night.”
“The loaded rifle was recovered in possession of the subject at the time he was shot and the serial numbers prove it is the same rifle that had been stolen from a residence earlier that same day,” he wrote.
The letter notes that Graham’s toxicology report shows he “was positive for amphetamines and cannabinoids at the time of the shooting.”