An officer breaking up a fight at a popular uptown restaurant next to the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Sunday morning shot and seriously injured a man who began choking him during the altercation, police said.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police hadn’t identified the man accused of assaulting the officer, but they said he was in Carolinas Medical Center late Sunday in critical but stable condition.
Police identified the officer as Tyler Lee, who was working a private security shift at the restaurant. Lee, who has been with the department since 2009 and is assigned to the Eastway Division, was placed on paid administrative leave, which is routine after an officer-involved shooting.
Police Chief Rodney Monroe said the shooting appeared to be justified. It happened about 1:45 a.m., shortly before closing time at Buffalo Wild Wings, which is connected to the Hall of Fame on East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Two men were charged in connection with the fight. Lawrence Edwin Johnson, 26, was charged with carrying a concealed knife. Johnson and Ryan Matthew Murray, 31, were both charged with public affray, police said.
When the man accused of choking Lee is released from the hospital, police said he would be charged with assault inflicting serious injury on a law enforcement officer.
Lee was taken to another hospital and released. Afterward, he was interviewed by investigators at the police department’s uptown headquarters.
Lee was working a “secondary employment” security shift at the restaurant. Officers working such shifts wear their police uniform and carry their equipment and weapons but are paid by a private employer. The employment is sanctioned by the department.
A restaurant employee told Lee, the only officer working at the restaurant Sunday, that someone was being assaulted by several men in the bar area, police said.
Police said Lee then saw the assault taking place and ordered the people involved to stop. Lee used his stun gun on one man who allegedly was assaulting the victim. At that point, police said a friend of the man who was shot with the stun gun came up from behind Lee and put him in a chokehold.
Chief Monroe told reporters at a Sunday press conference that the suspect was significantly larger than Lee and had the officer in “a rather strenuous chokehold and began to fling him about the restaurant.”
“The officer’s life was in jeopardy,” he added.
Lee tried unsuccessfully to free himself, police said. Ultimately, he pulled his gun and fired three shots, all of which struck the man, Monroe said. The man continued choking him and struck him several times, police said. Lee eventually got free and called for help.
It was unclear how many people were in the restaurant at the time, but Monroe said more than 20 people witnessed the incident. An employee who wouldn’t be named because of the company prohibition on speaking to the media said the restaurant wasn’t very busy Sunday when the shooting happened.
Before Monroe took over as chief in 2008, officers were prohibited from working at an establishment that “sells alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption as a regular and primary part of their business.” Monroe changed the policy, allowing officers to work at bars and clubs in limited capacities.
It’s unclear whether Buffalo Wild Wings was considered such an establishment, although in Sunday’s press conference, Monroe called it a local bar. It sells alcohol but is primarily a restaurant. However, during certain hours, patrons must be 21 or older to get through the front door.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Buffalo Wild Wings said: “We are committed to providing a safe and comfortable environment for all of our guests. At this location, we hire off-duty uniformed police officers to provide security during busy evening hours. We are cooperating fully with law enforcement officials regarding this matter. Since this is an active investigation, all inquiries should be directed to law enforcement.”
As is standard procedure with any officer-involved shooting, CMPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau will conduct a separate investigation to see if CMPD policies were followed.
Anyone with information in the case is asked to contact detectives at 704-432-TIPS or leave information with Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600. Steve Lyttle contributed.