Rock Hill police say man tried to kill them; he calls it an accident. What will jury say?

John Perry
John Perry York County Sheriff’s Office

Police and prosecutors say John Perry tried to kill a Rock Hill Police Department officer in 2016, as he shot at two officers after fleeing from a traffic stop. Perry was shot in the torso during the exchange.

Perry, who is black, was shot and wounded by a white officer, Dalton Taylor, but his trial will not include racial elements. Judge Paul Burch ruled, and prosecutors and Perry’s lawyer agreed, that neither prosecutors nor the defense can bring up recent “racially charged” police shootings in Charlotte, Charleston or Missouri.

Perry claims that the pistol just “went off.” He told police, after he was caught and gave a recorded statement played in court Monday, that he knew he had arrest warrants against him, and that he fled after the traffic stop. The gun went off as he tried to get rid of it, Perry told police.

“When I hit the fence, the gun went off,” Perry said in a recorded statement played in court. “I never pointed the weapon at that cop ... Saying I turned and pointed at them is a bald-faced lie.”

A jury will decide who to believe.

Perry, a convicted felon barred from having a gun, is on trial for attempted murder. He faces as much as 30 years in prison if convicted.

Opening statements are set for Tuesday.

Taylor, the officer who shot Perry, and Sean Bailey, another officer in the pursuit, are both expected to testify.

Perry declined to accept a plea offer of 15 years in prison for pleading guilty, both prosecutor Chris Epting and Perry’s lawyer, Bill Nowicki, said in court Monday.

In June 2016, when Perry was pulled over by police for a traffic violation and then fled, he had been sought by police for months. He was wanted on a bench warrant for failure to appear in court on a 2015 child abuse and neglect charge.

Blocked by a fence, Perry shot at officers Bailey and Taylor, arrest warrants and court documents allege. Taylor returned fire, documents show, yet Perry was able to escape.

When Perry was caught days later in Fairfield County in a camper, officials found that Perry had been shot by police during the incident. Perry’s wound to his torso was not fatal, and he has been in jail ever since without bond waiting for trial.

Prosecutors also said in court documents that Perry has a “lengthy criminal criminal history and is prohibited from owning a firearm by both federal and South Carolina laws.”

State Law Enforcement Division records show Perry has a criminal record, including weapons crimes and drugs and other convictions, dating back 30 years.

Because the incident involved a police shooting, SLED investigated the case.