Sheriff’s office helicopter captures aerial video of Charleston riot last month

Updated: Jun. 18, 2020 at 6:13 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office helicopter captured a bird’s eye view of the damage, looting, and law enforcement response to May’s riot in downtown Charleston.

It followed a day of peaceful protest and ended with dozens of businesses on King Street damaged.

The aerial images and radio traffic were obtained by Live 5 News through a Freedom of Information Request.

The video starts just after 9 p.m. on May 30, and it spans into the early morning hours of the following day.

“At Calhoun and King, if you have less lethal, deploy it. If you’re at King and Calhoun, deploy your less lethal if it’s warranted,” officers can be heard saying over the recorded radio traffic.

At the time, a line of officers was starting to push toward a group of rioters still on King Street, about 10 minutes before a curfew went into effect at 11 p.m. Friday.

The video shows the advantage the aerial view gives officers who are down on the street. It’s recorded with infrared technology and allows authorities to see through the darkness.

Capt. Roger Antonio said the helicopter allows CCSO to quickly assess the size of the crowd and find the quickest, safest, and most direct route to areas of concern.

It certainly isn’t a cheap tool though.

The helicopter cost the agency $3.4 million in 2018. It is the only full-time airborne law enforcement unit on the coast of South Carolina, according to CCSO’s website. It is routinely used to help other local, state and federal agencies in the tri-county area.

The helicopter also allows law enforcement to assist in determining the need for specialized vehicles and provides a spotlight to illuminate any areas of concern, Antonio said.

A public announcement speaker system gives law enforcement the ability to speak directly to people on the streets below, and in the event of a fleeing suspect or criminal activity, the FLIR (infrared) provides visibility so LEO can track and relay information to ground personnel.

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