Sheriff identifies man who killed himself outside jail Sunday

Published 4:44 pm Monday, January 14, 2019

COLUMBUS — An arrest in Polk County early Sunday morning turned into a standoff and a suicide.

According to officials with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, at approximately 4:57 a.m., an officer discovered a firearm on a man who was arrested.

Polk County Sheriff Tim Wright said Monday afternoon the suspect was identified as Camden Owen McWhirter, 33, of Cleveland County. He was arrested on suspicions of driving while impaired.

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“Deputies transported McWhirter to the Polk County Detention Center and, upon entering the secured lot, Mr. McWhirter revealed he had a weapon,” Wright said Monday.

He said after several hours of negotiations and attempts to resolve the incident with no loss of life, McWhirter took his own life.

Wright said Sunday McWhirter was asked numerous times to turn over the weapon to law enforcement and the standoff eventually ended after he suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Wright held a press conference Sunday afternoon and said at no point was the public in any danger.

The man’s name was withheld Sunday until authorities could notify his next of kin.

Wright said Sunday that once McWhirter revealed he had a weapon, officers saw it and exited the vehicle. They called the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, who brought in robots, as well as the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office.

Wright said he would not make any assumptions as to why things happened the way they did, as it is early on in the investigation.

“Hopefully, we’ll have answers soon,” he said.

He also said any decisions on possible repercussions to officers in this case will not be made until the SBI’s investigation is complete. He did say veteran officers were there.

“I’m not going to second guess them at this time,” Wright said.

The sheriff also said he is setting up a critical incident debriefing for the officers and said they are very upset as they were working toward a peaceful solution and thought they were getting through to McWhirter.

“Pray for the family of the victim and pray for the officers involved,” Wright said. “That is the most frustrating thing, is to think you are getting through to an individual and have it end this way.”

At one point Sunday morning, Highway 108 was shut down to traffic. The law enforcement center is located just outside Columbus, adjacent to Milliken.

Sheriff Wright has been on the job for a little over a month, as he was sworn into office as the county’s new sheriff in early December.

The SBI, the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office, the Columbus Police Department, the Polk County Emergency Management, Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office and the Tryon Police Department assisted Polk County in Sunday’s standoff.