Local News

Authorities: Man kills woman, deputy, dies in shootout

Posted April 8, 2009

— A man killed his girlfriend and later started a shootout in the woods with Lenoir County sheriff's deputies that killed a lawman and left the gunman dead, authorities said Wednesday.

Two Lenoir County lawmen shot, one killed Two Lenoir County lawmen shot, one killed

Craven County sheriff's Capt. Joe Heckman said suspect Clarence Douglas Phillips, 43, died at a Lenoir Memorial Hospital from gunshot wounds sustained during the shootout. He said deputies found Phillips' girlfriend, 49-year-old Cynthia Tillett Knighten, dead in her Craven County home.

Authorities identified the slain officer as Lenoir County Sheriff's Deputy Allen Pearson. Deputy Ryan Dawson was also shot near his neck.

Before authorities found Knighten in her home, Lenoir County 911 received a call at 9:56 p.m. Tuesday from Isaac Grady. He told dispatch officials that a man had driven a vehicle into a wooded area off Tick Bite Road, near Grifton, and was firing a gun.

"He shot about five times” Grady said.

Authorities said deputies arrived at the scene and repeatedly asked Phillips to surrender. A state Highway Patrol helicopter helped identify Phillips' location in the woods and then officers began approaching him.

"I was freaking out; I didn't know what was going on,” Grady said.

As officers entered the woods, Phillips began firing at them, Lenoir County Sheriff Billy Smith said. Deputies returned fire. Phillips and Pearson died of gunshot wounds. Dawson remained in serious condition Wednesday evening at Pitt Memorial Hospital.

Craven County authorities have named Phillips as the suspect in the death of his live-in girlfriend, Cynthia Tillett Knighten, 49, in New Bern.

Lenoir investigators traced the car Phillips was driving to Knighten and had Craven authorities go to her residence to investigate. That was when Knighten's body was discovered.

Heckman said Phillips had a history of domestic issues and that deputies believe Phillips shot Knighten, but it wasn't clear.

Grady said his wife and daughter were gone at the time of the shootout. He said one bullet went into his house where his family usually sleeps.

"It was right at the level where if they were laying on the bed, it would have went right through them,” Grady said.

The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting, which is routine in officer-involved shootings.

"It is a very sad day for the sheriff's office," Maj. Christopher Hill, chief of administration for the Lenoir County Sheriff's Office, said in a news release. "The Lenoir County Sheriff's Office is grieving the loss of Pearson and praying for the recovery of Dawson."

Records with the Department of Corrections show Phillips has a lengthy criminal history, including a 2004 conviction for attempted assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill and communicating threats. Records show he was convicted of assaulting a female in 1999. He also had a number of convictions in the 1980s, including assault with a deadly weapon and resisting an officer.


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  • babykong74 Apr 9, 2009

    For the ones who are against the LEO's.....Why don't you post your name and number so when the next emergency call rings out, you can be called in to "talk someone down that has a gun"! I am thankful for the men and women who have chosen the profession to serve and protect. I rest easy at night knowing that these BRAVE people are out on 10- 12, so my kids and I can sleep at night and if needed, they will be respond. You want a world with no violence? It is not happening in the world we live in today. Instead of bashing the LEO's, you need to be praying for them at night when you go to lay down your head with your spouse, after tucking your kids into bed. Don't worry, MY LEO HUSBAND WILL BE THERE WHEN YOU CALL 911, leaving his family at home praying that God grants them one more day to see their daddy walk in the door! Thanks to all LEO's for all that you do daily!

  • thought Apr 9, 2009

    noticed the person who hates cops has not posted what they do for a living- good- keep hiding behind a screen. I fully support my officers- even watch my neighborhood to assist them!
    For anyone dating- do a background check! I left an abuser - it is not worth it!!!!! be careful who you spend your time with. And a person so hateful of cops- just as bad!

  • thelawdawg Apr 9, 2009

    she must have had a speeding ticket or been arrested for a violation oh sorry its not her fault its our fault as a LEO for doing our job by picking on her for breaking the law

  • leo-nc Apr 9, 2009

    Looks like Staphanie has had a few run-ins. Pretty disgusting comment, too. Nice.

  • Milkman Apr 9, 2009

    The judge who allowed a guy with this record to walk the streets is as guilty as the man who pulled the trigger.

  • thelawdawg Apr 9, 2009

    wow, its a lawman so he deserves more respect....i dont think so

    here we go again someone else with a sour attitued for LEO's

  • Esq Apr 9, 2009

    That's a nice little criminal record he has there. How is he already not in prison. Another low life on parole comitting crimes.

  • ccacrabbitdog Apr 9, 2009

    just another break down in the system...with his record he should have been in prison....

  • HM_Stitches Apr 9, 2009


    i think you fail to understand that there are so many guns in america that even if your crazy little gun banning (or gun controling) tirade went anywhere there would still be plenty in the hands of criminals already so instead of trying to infringe on the rights of gun owners across the nation why don't you come up with a plan to first get the guns out of the hands of the criminals that already have them.

  • Milkman Apr 9, 2009

    By the same argument we should outlaw cars and booze, and there'd be no drunken driving deaths.

    Criminals will find a way, if there's one car, they'll steal it. If there's one gun, they'll get it.