Former York police chief sentenced in shooting

Published 10:24 pm Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Former York police chief David Rowry was sentenced to 15 years in prison Tuesday for manslaughter in the Sept. 17, 2008, killing of 52-year-old Joe Louis Bell of York during an altercation in the Church’s Chicken restaurant in York. A request for probation was denied.

Rowry was the town’s police chief at the time of the shooting, but left the police department shortly after.

Rowry was indicted for manslaughter on Dec. 17, 2008, and he turned himself in to authorities the next day. He was convicted of manslaughter on Dec. 3, 2009.

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A news report indicated that Rowry went into the restaurant to charge Bell with stalking. He reportedly told the jury that his weapon was holstered when he entered the restaurant, and that he fired after Bell tried to take his weapon. That testimony conflicted with information he provided investigators after the shooting.

It is believed that the incident began over a mayoral election dispute in August 2008. Former mayor Carolyn Gosa was in the process of revoking a business license that Bell owned in York. Bell, a supporter of eventual campaign winner Glenda DuBose, went to the Sumter County Record Journal one week before the election to have a letter to the editor published opposing Gosa.

Record Journal editor Tommy McGraw told Bell that the letter came in after the deadline, and that it couldn’t be published for another week, which was past the election day. Bell became angry, accusing McGraw of being unfair. After Bell cursed loudly and made disparaging remarks, McGraw told him that the newspaper was closing and that Bell needed to leave. Bell told him that neither McGraw nor the police would throw him out.

A newspaper employee had called the police, and when Bell heard the call on the newspaper’s police scanner, he left the building. McGraw later signed warrants against Bell for trespassing, disorderly conduct and harassment, and they were served on Aug. 25. He was released on a cash bond.

On Sept. 11 of that year, McGraw stopped at a convenience store after a Chamber of Commerce meeting and saw Bell inside the store. Bell again became loud, cursing at McGraw. A sheriff’s deputy inside the store told Bell to calm down.

After the deputy left, Bell reportedly said to McGraw, ‘The next time they come to arrest me, I’m going to blow their (expletive) brains out, and the next time you do that to me, Im going to blow your (expletive) brains out.”

McGraw warned local police about the threats, and Rowry asked McGraw to sign another warrant against Bell, but McGraw said that he couldn’t until later that week. McGraw had not signed the warrant that Rowry was acting on at the time of the shooting.