Standoff ends with crack shot

By Ed Brock

Steven Kim Gittens looked like "just a guy reading the paper," but he turned out to be so much more.

Electrician Johnny Williams saw Gittens sitting in a red Ford Ranger pickup in the parking lot of the Save Rite at Tara Boulevard and Flint River Road around 9:30 Thursday morning.

"I said how you doing," Williams said. "He said, ?It looks like you have to do quite a bit of electronic work in there.' He seemed fine."

But newly divorced, homeless and distraught, Gittens, 51, was anything but fine.

Around 10:40 a.m. he called 911 and said there was a man with a gun in the parking lot. Gittens admitted he was the man with the gun and planned to kill himself.

Then he hung up.

A short time later police officers swarmed the parking lot and surrounded Gittens who was walking around in the parking lot with a handgun and whom police believe wanted to commit "suicide by cop." The two-hour standoff n during which Gittens would alternate between carrying the gun and placing it on the hood of his truck ? ended when Clayton County police SWAT sniper Lt. Mark McGann shot the pistol off the hood of the truck.

Williams spent the standoff inside the Save Rite grocery store, knowing only that there was a gunman outside.

"I was kind of surprised that the gunman was the guy I had talked to," Williams said.

For most of the standoff more than 100 spectators watched the action. A police negotiator tried to talk to Gittens, but there was "no rapport" between Gittens and the negotiator, Clayton County Police Chief Darrell Partain said.

"The things (Gittens) said were irrational," Partain said.

Gittens, divorced and homeless reportedly had lived in his truck in the parking lot for the past three days. At one point during the standoff he placed the gun to his head but spent most of the time wandering the parking lot near his truck, his finger on the trigger of the gun that was pointed toward the ground.

When he walked over to the truck and put the gun on the hood, Partain gave the order to shoot. McGann had been "on target" aiming at Gittens' gun for 30 minutes from 65 yards away.

"Once you're told to take a shot you have to take it as soon as you can," said McGann. "It would seem difficult but if you have the proper equipment, the proper scope and if you've trained on the rifle it's not that hard of a shot."

McGann, a six-year veteran of Clayton County's SWAT team and a sniper for two of those years, snapped off one shot. The round from his McMillan .308 bolt-action rifle penetrated the Ranger's hood, eliminating the chance of ricochet, blowing the gun apart and sending it flying 20 feet.

Gittens remained standing by the side of his pickup and ignored orders by the SWAT team to drop to the ground. While forcing Gittens to the ground, a SWAT officer broke his own ankle.

"I'm glad it turned out the way it did," McGann said.

Partain said that Gittens' position on the side of the Save Rite building that is closest to Tara Boulevard limited the officers' means of approach and put him out of range for non-lethal weapons such as stun guns or beanbag shotgun rounds.

"We were very limited in our options in this situation," Partain said.

Partain said a note was found in Gittens' truck that indicated he wanted to commit "suicide by cop," which means the person plans to act in such a way that police have no option but to shoot. Derbyshire said Gittens is undergoing a psychiatric evaluation. His last know address was in Atlanta.

Drivers pulled over in nearby parking lots and watched the standoff. In the Waffle House restaurant perched on a hill behind the parking lot where Gittens was parked a group of employees huddled in a back doorway to watch.

"We've been cooking and talking and watching," one employee said.