By Meghan Cooke / Charlotte Observer
Relatives say Officer Fred Thornton always wanted to be a cop.
The veteran Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer and CMPD’s longest serving member of the department’s SWAT team died Friday night after a distraction device used in SWAT situations discharged at his Mint Hill home.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers formed an escort on Scott Avenue Friday evening to escort the body of officer Fred Thornton as he was taken from Carolinas Medical Center. Thornton was injured in an accident with a flash-bang device earlier in the day and died Friday evening. Gary O’Brien – Charlotte Observer
“That’s all he always wanted to be – a police officer,” said his brother, Tom Thornton. “Not a desk cop. A street cop.”
Paramedics responded to a call for help at Thornton’s home about 5:30 p.m. Friday.
After a preliminary investigation, police believe the distraction device – also known as a stun grenade or “flash-bang” – discharged as Thornton was “attempting to render his equipment safe.”
Thornton, a 28-year police veteran, underwent emergency surgery at Carolinas Medical Center, but later died as a result of his injuries. He was 50.
Earlier in the day, around 3:45 p.m., Thornton was on assignment as a search warrant was served.
The warrant service was conducted without incident and SWAT officers cleared the scene about 4:45 p.m., police said. Thornton then drove his SWAT vehicle to his home, where the distraction device later exploded, causing massive internal injuries, said Chief Rodney Monroe.
A distraction device is standard-issued equipment to SWAT officers, police said. It is used to startle suspects during raids.
Thornton graduated from UNC-Charlotte with a degree in criminal justice and almost immediately enrolled in the police academy.
Tom Thornton said his younger brother loved riding motorcycles – he had a Harley-Davidson – and enjoyed going to bike weeks at Myrtle Beach and Daytona Beach, Fla. He liked playing pool. But most of all, he was passionate about the SWAT team.
He’d been placed on desk duty after he injured his knee last summer as he tried to stop a rolling car with a man inside who had passed out after drinking. The driver was unresponsive inside the stopped car when it began to roll into the intersection. Thornton was hurt when he tried to open the door to slam on the car’s brakes.
Thornton resumed his regular duties about eight weeks ago after recovering from surgery and physical therapy, his brother said.
“His biggest concern was getting back to the SWAT team,” Tom Thornton said.
Although he loved his job, the longtime officer planned to retire this summer. He had talked to his brother about the possibility of helping him with his business and traveling together.
“I was really proud of my brother and looking forward to his retirement,” Tom Thornton said.
“I don’t think you’ll find anybody that doesn’t like him.”
Thornton had four children – three in their 20s and a 13-year-old son. He’s also survived by his wife, Linda.
Mint Hill and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are investigating the incident.
A visitation will be held for Thornton 6-9 p.m. Monday at Calvary Church on Pineville-Matthews Road in south Charlotte.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police will form a procession to the church prior to his funeral service at 11 a.m. Tuesday.