On the evening of 17 June 2015, nine churchgoers were gunned down at the historically significant Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. Less than a day later, suspect Dylann Storm Roof was arrested in Shelby, North Carolina, and charged with nine counts of murder.
After Roof was identified (and details of his life emerged), a number of controversies related to Roof and his actions became prominent subjects of online debate. On 21 June 2015, for example, the web site The Source raised eyebrows by publishing an article headlined “Police Chief Says Dylann Roof Was Taken to Burger King Shortly After Arrest.” The headline statement gave many readers pause, with some of them suspecting the article was of the prevalent “fake news” variety published simply to further enrage or agitate social media users.
The Source cited a Charlotte Observer article published three days earlier and headlined “Shelby police chief describes arrest of Charleston shooting suspect”:
In Shelby, the FBI handled Roof’s initial questioning, [Shelby police Chief Jeff] Ledford said. Shelby police’s lone conversation with the mass-murder suspect was about food. Earlier in the day, Roof had bought water and chips at a south Charlotte gas station. Now he was hungry. Police bought him food from a nearby Burger King, Ledford said.
Other outlets, such as NOLA.com, reported the same information:
The FBI eventually took over the questioning of the suspect, but, according to the Observer, “Shelby police’s lone conversation with the mass-murder suspect was about food. Earlier in the day, Roof had bought water and chips at a south Charlotte gas station. Now he was hungry. Police bought him food from a nearby Burger King, [Shelby Police Chief Jeff] Ledford said.”
That might be the last Whopper Roof ever eats. Still, forgive me for not understanding why police in Shelby thought it was their duty to assuage his hunger.
While the original Charlotte Observer article’s mention of Burger King was fleeting and not well detailed, that sole description stated that police “bought” Roof food from Burger King, not that they “brought him to Burger King” (which conjured up a slightly unnerving scenario under which a suspected spree killer was essentially handled with kid gloves, taken out to mingle with patrons at the restaurant of his choice, and even perhaps gifted a paper crown).
However, the explanation for the Burger King detail in the story involving Dylann Roof could stem from laws pertaining to the rights of a prisoner in custody. A post-arrest rights violation checklist published on FindLaw details circumstances under which an individual could later claim their rights were violated, one of which is a withholding of food:
A criminal suspect is entitled to humane treatment, no matter how heinous the alleged crime. If you were not treated humanely, for instance if you were deprived of food and water or if you were beaten either during police questioning or while in a holding cell, your rights may have been violated.
The website of a criminal lawyer practicing in South Carolina addressed conditions under which a confession or other information gathered during the questioning of a suspect could later be deemed inadmissible due to possible coercion, which also included a scenario in which food was denied:
Was the accused offered food, water, or allowed bathroom breaks?
Was the accused deprived of food or sleep during the interrogation while he was in custody?
Dylann Roof was apprehended between 10 and 11 AM on 18 June 2015, and the circumstances under which he was provided with food from Burger King prior to his arraignment were not entirely clear. At the time of Roof’s arrest, the Charleston shooting was a worldwide headline and the case had already escalated to the level of a major news story.
One could speculate that Roof’s status (pending interrogation by federal agents) put him outside the facility’s standard process for providing food to inmates or suspects, or that Roof was indeed handled in a manner atypical from that of most arrestees, or that local police employed an abundance of caution with a very high-profile suspect to avoid his later making claims of mistreatment or denial of rights.
Regardless of all the straightforward reasons why police would provide food to a suspect in their custody, the plain explanation is that Roof hadn’t eaten in days, and the Shelby PD didn’t have the facilities to house him and provide him with meals while waiting for federal and Charleston authorities to arrive, so they had to dispatch someone to a nearby business to pick up some food for him:
With the department’s phone ringing nonstop in the background, the young suspect with the bowl-cut hair was locked away in a second-floor conference room with an officer watching over him.
“Organized chaos,” Ledford later called it. “Because there were so many moving parts.”
Including feeding the unexpected arrestee.
“He hadn’t eaten, they said, in a couple of days,” [Pastor Strickland] Maddox said. “They bought him a hamburger. They just sent out for it. I guess one of the police officers went and picked it up.”
Ledford confirmed that this purchase was made.
“He did have something to eat while he was there, and he was secured in cuffs the entire time,” the chief said.
No reasonable reading of Shelby Police Chief Jeff Ledford’s accounts would suggest that Roof had actually been “taken to Burger King” after he was apprehended.