Anatomy of a standoff

Tuesday, Aug. 31, 4:30 p.m., downtown Asheville

An Asheville Police Department officer spots a black Camaro and recognizes the license number. Initially refusing to stop, the driver runs a red light before finally coming to a halt in a parking spot on Otis Street, between the federal courthouse and the RBC Bank.
Inside the vehicle sits 54-year-old Kenneth Eldimor Allison of Hilton Head Plantation, S.C., a gated community on Hilton Head Island. Allison puts his hands on the steering wheel, refusing to move. He wants to know why the police are looking for him and seems confused, agitated, police say.

The officer calls for backup. More police arrive and start cordoning off surrounding streets and rooftops. The APD believes Allison could be dangerous.

Flashback: Tuesday, Aug. 17, Hilton Head

Allison calls 911 in Hilton Head, “demanding that the Sheriff’s Office respond to recover a boat which he [claims] had been 'stolen' by his bank for payment issues,” according to local television station WSAV. Beaufort County sheriff's deputies inform Allison that this is a civil, not a criminal matter; nonetheless, he calls 911 repeatedly.

Wednesday, Aug. 18, 7:20 p.m., Hilton Head

Allison calls 911 again and this time, deputies go to his home, where “Upon arrival, Allison [meets] deputies armed with a long gun.” A standoff ensues as he refuses to leave his home; deputies establish a perimeter and call in the SWAT team while they negotiate.

“During attempts to communicate with him, he [is] seen with several different weapons, including a long gun, a handgun and a bow and arrow,” the report notes. Around midnight, negotiations break down. Deputies enter Allison's home and subdue him. Multiple weapons and marijuana are found, and he faces charges related to the drugs and improper use of 911.

Monday, Aug. 23, Hilton Head

Allison is released on bond. At some point in the ensuing days, he gets in his car and drives to Asheville.

Monday, Aug. 30, downtown Asheville

Allison enters RE/MAX Realty on College Street, saying he’s looking to buy property in the area. Becoming suspicious, the owner contacts the police, telling them that “Mr. Allison had been behaving strangely while working with an agent,” according to the APD report. The owner tells police “that after being shown some properties, Mr. Allison remained in the business’s parking lot for more than an hour, apparently cleaning out his trunk.”
The owner conducts an Internet search, discovers the Hilton Head standoff, and worries that Allison might return to the ReMax office. Meanwhile, the APD instructs its officers to be on the alert.

Tuesday, Aug. 31, 5 p.m.

Given Allison's apparent mental issues and the fact that he was armed during the Hilton Head standoff, the APD cordons off the area. Bystanders start to gather, wondering what’s going on. Multiple police cars cluster in the area; whole streets are blocked off; yellow crime-scene tape is strung across sidewalks and alleyways. Police officers armed with assault rifles keep watch at the corner by the RBC Bank.

More police arrive, including the emergency-response team. Negotiators try to persuade Allison to leave his vehicle peacefully.

“Our first priority is always the life and safety of the emergency-response personnel and citizens,” APD spokesperson Melissa Williams tells Xpress later, explaining the criteria for blocking off streets. “The second priority is incident stabilization — determining the strategy that will minimize the effect the incident might have on the community and surrounding areas. This is done on a case-by-case basis, based on the location and nature of the incident.

“As part of that determination, the incident commander will decide how far to extend a perimeter. This is largely determined through training and experience — just as a fire department, bomb squad or HAZMAT team would determine to what extent homeowners in the vicinity of an incident should shelter in place or evacuate.”

In this case, the perimeter extends up Otis Street and includes blocking off the alleys between buildings. Bystanders trying to photograph Allison's vehicle from atop the Wall Street parking deck and other vantage points are shooed away by police.

Tuesday, Aug. 31, 6 p.m.

The standoff has become the talk of the town; the Asheville Citizen-Times, whose building borders Otis Street, sets up an (occasionally interrupted) live Internet feed. Rumors swirl among the spectators. Some say the suspect hails from South Carolina (he does), and that he's murdered four people (he hasn’t). Meanwhile, bystanders snap photos with their phones and cameras, straining to catch a glimpse of the standoff. Live reports go out over Twitter and through text messages.

Not all the attention is welcomed by police.

As crisis negotiators try to calm Allison down, he reportedly becomes agitated by the sight of a Citizen-Times photographer shooting pictures from the roof. “He's compromising our ability to negotiate!” an officer tells police guarding the perimeter at the O. Henry Avenue intersection; they yell at the photographer to leave. He does but soon returns. More backup arrives, including the emergency-response unit's armored vehicle, which causes a considerable stir.

“Our emergency-response team is a highly and continually trained tactical unit composed of 12 members,” Williams explains later. “ERT is tasked with serving high-risk warrants, responding to barricaded suspects, hostage situations, and any other high-risk public-safety incident.”

Helicopters from several South Carolina news stations circle the area, attracting the attention of bystanders. An RBC employee in dress shirt and tie comes out of the bank, folder in hand, and stands watching from behind the police tape.

“My car's parked right there [next to Allison's], right in the line of fire, so I can't get to it,” he tells his fellow bystanders. “Luckily, my wife's coming to pick me up.”

Two older women in wheelchairs make their way to the intersection; the officer guarding it greets them and apologizes, saying, “I hope we didn't ruin your evening.”

They ask what all the fuss is about.

“Barricaded suspect, ma'am.”

Noticing that Allison has opened his sunroof, the RBC employee says, “It must be getting pretty hot in there.”

Tuesday, Aug. 31, 7 p.m.

“Wait: I think he's coming out!” exclaims someone in the throng of spectators straining to catch a glimpse of the action through the RBC drive-through.

It’s true. After more than two hours, the offer of a cigarette and a light has finally ended the tense standoff, and Allison leaves the vehicle.

“He's in his underwear!” a child shouts — and indeed he is.

The officers shake hands all around, and police vehicles begin leaving after Allison is taken into custody without a struggle.

No weapons are found in the vehicle, and Allison is taken to Mission Hospital for evaluation; the APD files commitment papers.

At the corner of Otis Street and Battery Park Avenue, Patrol Capt. Daryl Fisher talks to Xpress and the other assembled media about the situation.

“Luckily, we had officers nearby,” he reveals. “Just as a precaution, we called the SWAT guys out, but we didn’t need them. [Allison] just wanted to know what we wanted him for.

“This is exactly how I like to see it end,” Fisher continues. “If we can speak to someone, doesn’t matter how long it takes, as long as we’re able to talk it out, that’s the best outcome.”

Epilogue

Despite all the ruckus, no charges are filed against Allison. The APD’s main concern in pulling him over, notes Fisher, was simply “to check on his welfare,” and they decide not to charge him for running the red light or initially refusing to pull over due to concerns about his mental health.

Allison has a valid driver’s license, and he is free to pick up his car from the APD and leave town as soon as he's released from the hospital.

Not long after this story went to print, Allison was released.

— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at dforbes@mountainx.com.

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