Greenville,Anderson. (Ben Caxton)—When things were simpler, she celebrated being one of the shortest members of her basketball team. But on this August night, everything became much more complicated.
Dakota, 16, was a passenger in a car being driven by a man five years older. Bryan Keith Hamilton Jr., 21, was trying to outrun deputies from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.
He was speeding down Clemson Boulevard in Anderson when he crashed into a taxi near Lowe’s on Aug. 11.
After the crash, Hamilton threatened Dakota, according to her parents, Josh Starzyk and Sherry Britt, and their attorney, former state Rep. Bakari Sellers.
Dakota and Hamilton both got out of the crashed car and ran to a hilly, wooded area nearby.
Deputies caught up to them with the help of a police dog that was trained to track people.
Soon, there was gunfire.
Hamilton fatally shot himself in the head and fell on the teen, Sellers said. The dog was “mauling” her, he said.
Hearing gunfire, Anderson County deputies fired shots, too.
They shot Dakota five times, Sellers said.
She was shot in the neck and had several leg injuries, including a broken femur and tibia, according to Sellers, and one of the toes on her left foot was missing.
When the gunfire was over, Dakota was brought down the hill in handcuffs, Sellers said. A medic told deputies to remove them so the teen could receive treatment, he said. The Greer High School student was sent by medical helicopter to Prisma Health System’s Greenville Memorial Hospital.
The dog had been shot by police during the confrontation and died the next day.
In the moments that followed, Anderson County Sheriff Chad McBride told reporters that his deputies had been “ambushed” in that area near Lowe’s.
Two days later, Anderson County Coroner Greg Shore said an autopsy showed that Hamilton Jr. died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the right side of the head. Shore said the bullet retrieved from Hamilton during an autopsy Thursday matched his own gun.
It was the only bullet Hamilton had, Shore said.
After the coroner’s findings, McBride said that officers “believing they were fired upon, made a split-second decision” to fire their weapons.
“It’s a very tragic incident,” McBride said Aug. 13. “I feel that if I were in that same situation, I would have made the same decision.”
Sellers said he intends to sue the Sheriff’s Office on behalf of Dakota and her parents.
In an interview with the Anderson Independent Mail and The Greenville News last week, Sellers called for McBride “to tell the whole truth” about what happened that summer night.
“There cannot be an ambush when there was one shot fired and that was a suicide shot,” Sellers said. “There were no shots fired at law enforcement.”
Sellers is not the only attorney on the case.
Ben Crump, a well-known civil rights lawyer, also is representing Dakota.
Crump also represents the family of George Floyd, the 46-year-old Black man who died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.