FOX Carolina received exclusive access to audio and video files that show negotiations played as crucial a role as a shot from a police sniper did in saving a clerk who was taken hostage in Spartanburg in 2004.
Spartanburg police said in July 2004 Jimmy Johnson, fearing a return to prison, took a clerk hostage at the Fast Point convenience store on South Church Street. Johnson had been pulled over in the store's parking lot for a tag violation.
Records show for more than 12 hours Johnson made threats against police, the clerk and himself. Johnson also fired several shots at police through the store's windows during the standoff.
Hostage negotiation tapes show how desperate Johnson was.
“When I come out it's blazing saddles, because I don't give a [expletive], not at this point, and I ain't going back to jail,” Johnson was heard saying to negotiators.
Spartanburg police could not comment for this story because of an ongoing civil suit with the store's owner.
Retired FBI Chief Negotiator Steve Romano said this standoff was unique.
“You'll find most incidents are over in three to four hours,” Romano said.
Romano explained why early on police used a robot to deliver a phone inside the store to begin negotiations.
“Law enforcement tries to make it where they (hostage taker) can't talk with anyone else but them,” Romano said. “Sometimes the team will say to the hostage taker ‘how is that person in there with you'.”
On the tapes the clerk can be heard pleading with police to come in and rescue her:Hostage: "Please, please come in"
Negotiator: "Sarah, Sarah are you OK?"Meanwhile Johnson tells negotiators he is hopeless:Negotiator: "Jimmy just come out man."
Johnson: "I can't. I'm going to die today."Later in the negotiations police try reassuring Johnson by letting him speak to friends and family and even a Pastor:Pastor: "Sir, you said you said you wanted a favor, what is that?"
Johnson: "A prayer for a dying man."As more time passes Johnson begins making more threats to negotiators, Romano says those threats force police to take action.
“If the threats increase the incident commander is going to believe that the tactical component will end the incident,” Romano said.
Johnson becomes irate when officers shoot tear gas into the building and is heard making more threats,
“Man you shoot some more gas in here and everybody die," he said.
While Johnson is making those threats a bulldozer is punching holes in the store for SWAT teams to come in. On the negotiation tapes Johnson can be heard coughing.
Records show Johnson opened fire on SWAT officers. One shot grazed an officer's helmet. FOX Carolina camera's then captured Johnson running out of the front of the store with a gun to the clerk's head as she struggles to get away.
“It was clear that his intent was to use that weapon on the victim” Romano said.
But Johnson would never get the chance to hurt the clerk thanks to a Spartanburg police sniper who fired a single shot that hit Johnson in right shoulder and allowed the clerk to run into the arms of waiting officers.
Romano said the ending of this situation could not have been better.
“The victim survived and even the hostage taker, although incapacitated survived.”
FOX Carolina spoke with the clerk for this report and she expressed her thanks to the negotiators, Spartanburg police - particularly that sniper - for saving her life.
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