A man said by police to have “superhuman strength” fueled by an as-yet-undetermined drug shrugged off a Taser shock and grabbed a shotgun from police during a struggle late Monday on Virginia Avenue.
Police Chief Michael Kelly said it is only by the grace of God that no one died during the confrontation.
Walter McKnight, 37, of Columbia now faces a host of charges, and police obtained a warrant and drew blood.
“It was an extremely dangerous situation,” Kelly said. “He was obviously on something. When I interviewed the officers from the scene they said he appeared to have superhuman strength.”
Kelly said there is a concern that more trouble could loom in Columbia.
“It may be spice or something,” he said. “There’s a batch of something out there that somebody may get a hold of that may harm them or others. We may not have seen the end of this.”
The incident began at about 11:30 p.m. Monday when officers responded to a disturbance call on Virginia Avenue. They found McKnight standing in the road.
Kelly said McKnight then became “very aggressive toward the officers and failed to comply with several demands.”
After officers tried to deploy Tasers three times, McKnight began a physical altercation with the officers and attempted to take weapons from them or their patrol cars.
“He was throwing our police officers around like rag dolls,” Kelly said in remarks to the Columbia Rotary Club Tuesday.
Kelly said at one point McKnight got in a patrol car and was trying to drive it away. During a struggle with an officer, Kelly said McKnight grabbed a duty-issue shotgun from the car. The officer then grabbed McKnight in a bear hug until backup arrived.
Kelly said another officer on the scene said he would have shot McKnight but didn’t have a clean shot.
The chief said they eventually hit him in the head with a baton, which Kelly said was necessary to save the officer’s life.
“We will be vilified for that by somebody. ... The only reason that man wasn’t shot and killed by police officers was because our police officers are pausing because they’ll be vilified,” Kelly said.
McKnight was transported to Marion General Hospital by AAA Ambulance as he was injured in the scuffle. Columbia Fire Department first responders checked officers and helped treat and load McKnight into the ambulance. He was arrested after he was released, early Tuesday morning.
According to police the incident began with a call of shots fired in the neighborhood. Neighbors initially thought McKnight had been shot trying to break into houses. Kelly confirmed that McKnight had not been shot and that his officers did not fire their weapons.
“The shots could have stemmed from the previous incidents,” he said.
It was later determined that McKnight had kicked in the door at two separate residences on Virginia Avenue. At one residence, McKnight allegedly pulled an elderly man out of bed and stole his truck keys and cellphone before officers made contact with him.
McKnight and two officers were sent to Marion General Hospital, treated and released.
McKnight is currently being held in the Marion County Jail and was awaiting bond as of midday Tuesday. He is charged with aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, burglary of a dwelling, possession of a controlled substance, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
“As always, we are thankful for the quick response from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office to assist us during these types of calls when dealing with violent subjects,” Kelly said.