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.”
In the hours after the accident, Chief Rodney Monroe and fellow officers streamed to the hospital.
Thornton, a 28-year police veteran, underwent emergency surgery, but later died as a result of his injuries. He was 50.
“Members of CMPD … are heartbroken over the loss of a veteran member of their family,” CMPD spokeswoman Officer Rosalyn Harrington said in a statement.
After word spread of Thornton’s death, more officers congregated at the hospital. Some stood together in groups, some talking in low voices and others shaking their heads.
On Morehead Street near the hospital and later through uptown on Tryon Street, dozens of patrol cars drove with lights and sirens on in a show of respect. Traffic came to a halt as firefighters, paramedics and police stood outside their vehicles and watched the procession pass by.
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.
“The device exploded, causing very massive injuries internally,” Monroe said.
A distraction device is standard-issued equipment to SWAT officers, police said. It is used to startle suspects during raids.
Mint Hill and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are investigating the incident.
Thornton was assigned to the department’s North Tryon Division.
In 2006, he was among four CMPD SWAT officers deployed to the Gulf coast after Hurricane Katrina.
He spent seven weeks in Waveland, Miss., providing help with security, transportation and labor in support of a medical team from CMC.
Monroe said the day’s tragedy reminds people of the risks of serving as an officer: “It’s a risk that all too often costs our members their lives.”
– Observer Staff writer Ely Portillo contributed.
Sympathy Cards Should Be Sent To:
Sgt. Eric Peterson, Supervisor
Special Weapons and Tactics Team
Charlotte–Mecklenburg Police Dept.
601 East Trade Street
Charlotte, NC 28202-9999
CMPD Web-Site: http://www.cmpd.org