Poker Raid in South Carolina: 1 Player, 1 Cop Shot

Violent standoff and hefty charges in uncertain battleground state [Pictures]

by , Nov 4, 2010 | 4:14 pm

A relatively routine raid of a low-stakes poker game in Greenville, South Carolina turned bloody yesterday night — as police tried to gain entry to a poker house. The game host, now known to be Aaron Awtry, 72, shot through the front door, striking sheriff’s deputy Matthew May with a bullet that went through his arm.

A vice squad in SWAT gear returned fire, hitting Awtry with multiple rounds in his arm and thumb … which was followed by a 20-minute standoff between cops and players, according to a spokesman for the Greenville County Sheriff’s Department. Both shooting victims were taken to the hospital where they are in stable condition.

There were 12 people and Awtry in the house at 502 Pine Knoll Drive when police arrived at about 9:20 pm last night. According to frontline witnesses, they had just finished a small buy-in dinnertime tourney … and a 1/2 cash game was just getting underway when someone saw 5-0 approaching on a security monitor. Before he could clearly vocalize an alert, a battery ram begin slamming the front door and players froze. Awtry, who players say has notoriously bad hearing in his senior years and presumably believed the game was being robbed, began shooting at the door with his pistol, firing “at least once” according to a player, “multiple shots” according to police. At least four officers returned fire at the door with at least 20 bullets from their higher-powered assault weapons.

As Awtry fell back into the poker room entryway, he balked, “Why didn’t you tell me it was the cops?”

click to enlarge

Police supposedly pulled backed after the exchange of gunfire to secure the perimeter while players inside called 911 to report that people were hurt, they needed an ambulance, and they meant no harm. Eventually they all had to remove their shirts as they came out of the house one by one to be handcuffed and transported downtown for questioning and gunshot residue tests. All were eventually released and received $100 gambling citations except for the Awtry, who is still in police custody at the hospital, charged with attempted murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. He could face additional charges related to the allegedly illegal gambling operation.

72-year-old Aaron Awtry could spend the rest of his life in prison for shooting a cop while hosting a 1/2 game that South Carolina’s highest court isn’t yet sure is all that illegal.

A Greenville County Sheriff’s Office press release says deputies seized $4,785, two poker machines, two poker tables, three surveillance cameras, 3.7 grams of cocaine and about $2,000 worth of gambling paraphernalia such as cards and chips. A copy of the search warrant left behind reveals the house had been under police surveillance for months … and the raid netted about $2,500 in cash.

Less than three weeks ago, the South Carolina Supreme Court was hearing arguments from a PPA-backed legal team about a similar but less injurious poker raid in 2006 — and will be considering whether or not such a game is even a crime under South Carolina gambling laws written in 1802. A ruling is expected by mid-2011.

The poker house shot up last night was in a relatively rundown semi-residential, semi-industrial nook on the edges of suburban Greenville — about a mile from a high school and a mile from an underground room that the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office raided in January, arresting 27 players and seizing about $64,000 in cash.

As is often the case in underground poker scenes nationwide, a string of armed poker robberies followed a string of armed police raids this year in Greenville, a longtime hotbed of good poker that many players affectionately refer to as G-Vegas.

Since 2009, South Carolina lawmakers have been pushing legislation to revise and clarify state gambling laws, and potentially legalize raked home games and/or charity tournaments.

According to the tweet of a player who was at this latest Greenville raid gone awry:

Un-fucking-real.To my surprise, Im alive. So is everyone else. Going to sleep… i hope…

32 Comments to “Poker Raid in South Carolina: 1 Player, 1 Cop Shot ”

  1. The Poker Guru (Not)

    I can’t believe in this day and age the cops would both to raid a small poker game. Probably most of the cops have their own weekly poker night that never gets raided.

  2. Dan Michalski

    anyone know what the buy-in was for the tourney that night? my guess is somewhere in the $45 range … but would love to know for real.

  3. Kim Shannon

    Whew!! Thank goodness the cops were there to bust the door down at the big bad poker game… otherwise, someone may have gotten hurt.

  4. wendywendy

    Showing my ignorance: but what is/are “two poker machines”

  5. scott diamond

    We have better things to do then RAID home poker games here in LA. I would hope ALL Law Enforcement would do the same. The cocaine found there is someones personal use and it’s everywhere. Come on South Carolina spend the tax dollars a little better. The guy is 72 yrs old and is going to finish his life in prison for attempt murder on Police Officers. I don’t know his backround but due to the robberies and all I still don’t think he has a defense.

    I know of some raids in North Carolina too. damn didn’t General Lee play Poker?

  6. DanM

    I’m guessing one of those bar poker-ish games, that may or may not pay out tickets for money.

    funny, in SC, they seem to refer to all the poker busts as “gambling raids” … where as the Video Poker slot rooms get referred to as “poker busts”

  7. DanM

    Scott, do you think those charges stand a chance at sticking, or even getting to trial? i can understand when a cop gets shot how you guys wanna come down as hard as possible on the shooter. but it seems a DA would have a hard time with “possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime” … as playing poker or even running poker isn’t exactly violent by its nature.

  8. Mean Gene

    I’m sure that if Deputy May had been killed during the shootout the heinous nature of the alleged crimes and the vast haul of booty recovered would’ve been been a great consolation to his bereaved family.

  9. scott diamond

    Dan there are alot of “factors” here for me as an outsider looking in without all the facts.

    In this country everyone has a right to bear arms to protect your life and property.

    Was this the residence of the 72 year old guy? I dont think so from what I can see it was a rundown piece of property they were using.

    Was he licensed to carry a gun? I highly doubt it it is very difficult to get a CCW (Carry Concealed Weapon) permit in South Carolina.

    I am sure the DA of the county/city where this occurred is going to throw the book at this guy mainly because he shot Police Officers whe were serving a search warrant on the location that a JUDGE gave them permission to do. Politics…These Cops are just doing what they get paid to do. They may not agree with breaking up a home game of Poker but this is an illegal activity in South Carolina and those sworn to serve and protect were following orders.

    To answer your question you have right now is this being treated differently if some joe blow tried to rob the poker game and he was shot? Of Course!! These are Law Enforcement men and women the supposed best of the best. They are not thugs praying on other thugs.

    See you saturday

  10. DanM

    i agree with jesse in theory … there’s a fine line between the cops and robbers. and i could even get on a strong anti-cop bandwagon if this was some sorta move to acquire big bucks from seized and forfeited money. however, that clearly couldn’t have been the case here — too small a game.

    So really, the police are just doing their jobs — the problem is with the laws that force them to respond to a complaint as such. (similar to war on drugs kinda stuff.)

    but i just can’t see a jury saying yes, by running this room you were committing a violent crime, and when you do that with a weapon it’s extra bad. and as to attempted murder … if i’m an attorney, i think i can a pretty easy case that he was in now way attempting to MURDER someone when he shot through a door (with a little handgun, it sounds like) in response to a battering ram at the door.

    i want to sympathize with the cops here, because it sucks when they are serving misdemeanor warrants and get shot. however, let’s call a spade a spade — if they really want to shut down an “illegal gambling business” there is a simple way to do that. show up a couple hours early and park a police car in front. do that a few days in a row, and no more poker room.

    the police really coulda just knocked nicely here. why put their men at risk for this?

  11. Jesse

    So these officers are the “best of the best” and they are not thugs? In what way was this operation any different from an actual armed robbery, except for a piece of paper and some government-issued trinkets they wear on their costumes?

    They stormed a house of peaceful citizens with a battering ram and assault weapons, wounding an occupant in the process, and took everything of value inside. That sounds like the behavior of thugs to me.

  12. eneely

    This is a shame. A man might be in jail for the rest of his life, not because he was playing poker, but because he thought he knew how to use a gun to protect himself, and did not have the proper skills and training.

    Anyone who shoots through a closed door it responsible for the damage he causes. It doesn’t matter what he is doing inside, or why someone is trying to break down the door.

    If people who carry considered what sorts of situations they might get into, and not know how to handle them, they might think again. He has self-protected himself into prison.

  13. DanM

    i hear ya all. it’s a complicated situation. i was just happy to add my slightly pokery bias to the coverage, as it was so apparent that the local TV news was definitely operating under the assumption that cops are the good guys, gamblers are the bad guys. and that’s just not fair. yes, awtry chose his own fate to some extent when he decided to engage in underground pokering … but so did the police officer. he presumably had a bulletproof vest on, and though i’m no ballistics expert, it seems like he got hit by a pretty small-caliber weapon that couldn’t have done much had it hit the kevlar.

    the journo in me is fascinated by what this case presents — because you can’t exactly call it a wash when a guy wounds a peace officer in the process of engaging in a legally questionable operation. but at the same time, if i’m his attorney, i’m fighting hard (and would do my best to make the cops look bad) to show that in now way was this an attempt to MURDER, nor even some sort of “unsuccessfully attempted negligent homicide”, which really is the LOL “crime” they are trying to accuse Awtry of.

    I would also contend, as an attorney looking for a not-guilty and/or the lightest sentence possible, that with the cops having a lengthy undercover investigation setting up the warrant, they should known the main guy had hearing issues and taken that into account.

    we are lucky no one got killed … because really, then we’d have a much more difficult thing to grapple with — as in who’s to blame? poker players or the police themselves.

  14. Paradiggum

    DanM, the only difference between legal poker and illegal poker is that in legal poker, the government crime syndicate gets their cut of the poker money. In “illegal” poker, the government does not get their cut. So of course they are going to break into your home and take it by force when they find out they are not getting their cut. While its true in many cases that the police department is a pawn in the game, the “I’m only doing my job” excuse wore out in the early 1940’s when the people killing the Jews were “Only doing their job”. Just because petty theft is a less serious offense doesn’t get them off the moral hook.

  15. Fixer

    They hadn’t identified themselves and were attempting to break down the door. Should be interesting in court.

    Why didn’t they just knock and identify themselves? They had a search warrant and had the place under surveillance for months, so why the blitzkrieg attempt?

  16. implant

    Cops are douchebags, simple answer.

  17. Jason

    I highly doubt they found 3.7 grams of cocaine… how convenient. I do believe the old man when he says he didn’t know he was shooting at the cops. Given the fact that the police had no just cause in this raid, it should go down as self defense. Assuming the “justice” system was ethical, of course.
    The whole purpose of this raid was to extract money through blackmail, so the police officers would have a nice payday… but things didn’t go as planned, so lets throw 3.7 grams of cocaine into the mix, so it looks a little more just.
    The cops probably figured these guys were playing high stakes cash games… to the cops dismay they broke into a 1/2 game.
    These cops aren’t even good at being criminals. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing? I’m guessing it doesn’t really matter either way when they have the system backing them up.

  18. Lessolitaire

    Yo, little Dick Tracy, they had an F’ING warrant signed by a judge after months of surveillance…and you say they had no just cause?  Okay. So morons really do have a King!  Bully for you, King of the Morons!!!  Bully, I say!  BULLY!!!  MORON!

  19. Dan Michalski

    People still use lycos?

  20. TheREALtruth

    I’ve read every post that I could find with my inadequte internet “lack of” skills, on this most unfortunate incident… that NEVER had to happen. I would first like to wish Matthew May a very speedy and complete recovery of his injuries he sustained in this incident. I would also wish Aaron that same result. This is difficult for me, as Aaron is a very good friend of mine,and like family, you hope no harm ever comes to the people you love & care about. The obvious injuries, pale in comparison, to the lifelong tragedy they BOTH will carry for the rest of their God given days in their minds. I used to play in some of these games,for me the risk was not worth the reward. So, I choose to play in well secured legal casino’s,not becuase it is “unlawful”, (Remember daily numbers were also “unlawful”, until the states realized the revenue it could “rake” if they made it legal…ah hah… let’s start a lottery !) Many of these local games are in fact ROBBED at gunpoint usually by men usually 2 or more that bolt through the door in dark clothing w/masks worn. I’ve never seen a SWAT outfit…someone please describe it for me. I know that Aaron has been served previously with this same crime at another location. No shots were fired,money was taken (confiscated) and tickets were issued. So, for me it’s difficult to understand why this level of force was deemed necessary. Think about it. This was allegedly investigated for 30 days,don’t you think by then, that they knew EXACTLY who they were dealling with? SOMEONE gave those orders,SOMEONE made a decission on “The best way to execute this warrent, with the SAFETY of EVERYONE in mind. This is an example of a poorly thought out ( I HOPE) decission. This person has hopefully learned from a bad decission that was directly partially responsible for the injury to one of his/hers greatest assets… an officer who is trained to carry out orders given by hopefully a LEADER who begins with the end in mind and providing solutions and plans that will ackomplish the most important objective… KEEP your PEOPLE as safe as possible, as well as the general public. How would we be reacting to this if that poker table was within target area of the door and 20 shots fired and KILLED people who were only playing cards and lost their lives for a CRIME that carries a $100.00 fine. For me …it’s not about the details of what happened…. It’s about what ABSOLUTELY DID”NT HAVE TO HAPPEN…if a more prudent leadership decission had been made. I know I’m all over the place with this post…. It’s not my strong suit.These affected people will carry thoughts of how this went down,for me …IT never should have happened. I’m certain that all directly involved, their families, and friends, wish there was somehow,a different PLAN that evening. Now,as far as the “fortified door” and cameras, I’m sure by now after all the robberies that have happened, this a standard deterant anywhere the games are held. “All that gambling equiptment… most carry lots of poker chips, that can be purchased online and even at good ‘ole Walmart for tourneys where several players are involved. Knowing Aaron as I do, and yes the poor hearing is REAL,believe me I know!He reacted to a situation to protect “his” players. It was probably his reaction based on past robberies he’s endured, Inever knew him to have a gun, I’m guessing it was fear of what has happened in past situations. Selfishly for me, I saw years ago, that the risk of violence was not rewarding enough for me to continue to play at private games and feel fortunate to come to the RIGHT DECISION for me, given all the potential consequenses. I hope WE AS A PEOPLE will empower (VOTE into office) the right people with proven, prudent, judgement decissions for the SAFETY FIRST, EVERYTIME, LEADERSHIP that I feel played the biggest part in this unfortunate escallation that NEVER had to occur.

  21. GmanIV

    Check out the local news station here: their are 89 comments on this when all their usual news has about 5 or so comments…

    Also…the Cops said they had their SIREN going full blast to let them know they are cops…all they players say NO THEY didnt. well a AUDIO recording surfaced and the news station (fox carolina) aire it and you hear the pigs yelling, but you hear NO SIREN….they are covering this crap up and they will get burned.

  22. JP

    Wow…alot of opinions and facts being fired of here – a few of them are factually accurate and intelligent. As the only person who has actually talked to Mr. Awtry since he was shot and arrested, I can tell give you the following facts:
    1. Mr. Awtry’s game had been “busted” by the cops on 3 previous occasions. On EVERY occasion when the police identified themselves, he willingly let them into the game and cooperated in every way.
    2. There were also 3 separate occasions where Mr. Awtry’s game was robbed. On one of those occasions he was beaten. He had the robber on video tape and handed it over to the police. They never investigated it. On another occasion, they were trying to bust through a locked door and he fired a warning shot that scared them away.
    3. The police told Mr. Awtry that if he just moved his game from a business into a house that the police would not bother him.
    4. On this occasion, the police did not announce themselves and did not show any identification. This is corroberated by the 13 people inside. They simply came to the door with a battering ram to break in. Mr. Awtry thought he was being robbed. He fired TO THE RIGHT OF THE DOOR – he didn’t even intend to hit the would-be robbers much less the police. He may have shot one more time as he was falling down – he is not sure. The deputy was hit in his wrist.
    5. Mr. Awtry has double hearing aids that were not in that night.
    6. There is not one person who knows Mr. Awtry that thinks he would hurt anyone, much less shoot at a police officer. And yet he finds himself charged with attempted murder.

    Dan M hit the nail on the head when he talked about the fine line between the cops and the robbers. In fact, I think there is little difference, and here is why: the police could absolutely not give a rats ass about handing out $100 tickets to poker players. The ONLY reason they raid the games is to keep the money they take. Coincidentally, that is the only reason robbers try to rob the game. They each are trying to take money that is not theirs and convert it to their own use. The only difference the robbery the police engage in is legal.

    If you took away the forfeiture laws, we would have seen the last poker bust in South Carolina.


  23. Dan Michalski

    thanks for this info JP. we take our facts pretty seriously around here (some might laugh at that contention when it comes to more poker-geeky stuff) … so please, by all means, if you see any inaccuracies small or big, let me know!

  24. JP

    No problem, Dan. It seems logical that people reading this blog are of somewhat like mind, and so there is a lot of “preaching to the choir”, but someday the press and the public MUST take notice that the only reason these games are being busted is for the profit motive. Take that away and at least then you will know that the person trying to bust down your door is for sure not a cop. And then there should be multiple shots straight through the door from a high caliber gun. Then the robberies would stop and people could simply play poker in peace.

  25. TheREALtruth

    Jp – did you visit him in the hospital, or at the jail? I ask because I’ld like to visit him ASAP, but not sure of proceedures. Thanks for the FACTS you provided in your post. I destinctly remember Aaron telling me about being told by police to move his game from a business address to a residential. Thanks

  26. JP

    I was able to visit him in the hospital and in jail. However – and you’ll love this crap since you know Aaron – they have him in a red jump suit in jail. The significance of this is that the normal jail population is in orange jump suits – the red ones are reserved for the “most violent” offenders. What a crock. Also,for some unknown reason they have him in solitary confinement for one week – his wife cannot even visit him. He is receiving no help or treatment for his gunshot wound and broken arm. Did we mention he was 72?? As of Saturday he was not getting his necessary medications for blood pressure, diabetes, or thyroid – any one of which could kill him. Makes me so proud of those sworn to protect us. I feel so damn sorry for him and am doing all that I can do. We’re submitting a bond request to solicitor today without much hope they will consent, but maybe we can get in front of a circuit court judge by week’s end to get him a bond.

  27. Sonya

    Well ive posted on the news websites and most of the people on there are saying everyone in that house that were playin cards are low life criminals!pisses me off because i personaly know everyone involved except the cops! I know Aaron is a good man and would do anything to protect the ones he loves and all of us are pretty much like family to him and he did what he thought he had to do. As far as all of us poker players are criminals is bullshit!Ive played with Judges, cops, news ancormen, lawyers and doctors. I go back to a few months back me and friends were playing a tourny in liberty and the cops busted in holding guns to us in plain clothes telling us to get down so i and the others thought we were getting robbed. they carried us all off to jail put all of our mugshots on the news and front page of the papers just for something as silly as a tourny!But it was big news because they found one joint and one pill on one person so it was a drug and gambeling raid! The money the took from us they got out of out wallets and cars and also took guns from peoples cars. The money was not on the table it was not a cash game! I also heard on the news it was a high-stakes game it was 1.00/2.00 game! I just wish there was something we coould do. I wish Aaron the best and also the cop that followed the stupid order to do what he did.

  28. scott diamond

    I understand everyones frustration with this since I am a Deputy for the past 24 years. Dont blame the cops for all of this non-sense. Seriously!!! Its the politicians of your states fault and you the PEOPLE for not voting them out of office.

    141 Law Enforcement Officer have died in the line of duty this year already trying to make the communities we live in safer. We dont take this job to be Bullies! we dont take this job to shoot and kill we take it because we want a better society for us and our families. WE do not make the laws. We enforce them and some of the stupid ones we can warn you for but when the BRASS tells you to put together a team of guys and go get me some gamblers so we can show the US Govt we are working hard we will then get our GRANT money and FEDERAL money for our agency.

    I am sorry to hear what happened do not know all the facts but its tough when a 72 year old man is shot but its also tough for me to see a cop shot doing his job I have had too many friends killed in the line of duty when I was there this is why I have my charity even though its struggling to stay alive too.

    Doo your selves a favor..Get the word out to have some one who can run for office and support poker and these BS raids will stop

  29. Cokehead

    What, were there no terrorists to fight? Was the donut shop out of glazed, so you just needed to bash things?

    Scott, I think there’s a fundamental problem with the police force when a $100 gambling citation is served by men with automatic weapons who bash down the door. Nobody had to get shot here at all. Why’d they knock? These cops had been watching the house for months – they knew it was just a bunch of old guys playing a card game.

    These were incompetent, retarded cops. I hope they get put in jail. I appreciate the existence of the police; I do not appreciate when they act like thugs of a totalitarian state.

  30. Cokehead

    Or why didn’t they knock, rather*

  31. scott diamond

    I wish every Law Enforcement Dept in the USA received the training my Department gives.I am serious here all, The LA County Sheriffs dept truly tries to serve the people of this county and the training we get is amazing and that is why I am proud to be part of it.
    I read so many stories about how cops handled a situation and yes we can be a Monday morning Quarterback after the fact but with proper training some of these situations would have different outcomes.
    I have been to seminars and shared my experiences with other Cops and we have discussed certain situations. I am blessed to be able towork for one of the busiest depatrments in the world and over the years we have learned from others mistakes and our Sheriff is adamant about how we treat the public, our response times to calls and the quality of arrests.
    As I stated earlier, we would not have raised a home game like this. I have been part of several big operations where we have gone after illegal bookmaking operations and gambling operations but they have involved over a 100 cops every time so this should tell you the size of the illegal operations.
    I cannot speak for the Carolinas Law Enforcement but as I said earlier to this is about numbers for grants and money bet if you pulled over one of those officers involved and asked them what they thought about this raid they would say they have better things to do then break up a 100.00 poker game.
    Serving search warrants are very very dangerous no matter what type it is. At times there have been booby traps set up or like in this instance we take rounds as we are entering like what happened in San Antonio Texas yesterday. I am sure they announced themselves as the law requires you to, but within seconds of yelling they entered the structure to catch people off guard inside, its how its done.

  32. Lessolitaire

    Naughty DRAH! You break the law, the man gone come! You keep breakin the law, him gone come hard! They bust three times before, but no lesson learned. The violators continue to break the law, so the consequence on them. Drugs, illegal Poker machines, illegal gambling —then the violators gone blaze on the man? Wake up, for you is as asleep! Stop The Violation! Obey the law! Then the man have no reason to break down ye door or return blaze with blaze! Ya all heard?  Erie I!