Cullman Police confronted suspect hours before deadly Saturday night shooting

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Charles Patrick Wayne Burgess (Cullman Police Department)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman Police Department is still in the preliminary stages of investigating the murder of Thomas “Tommy” L. Piper, 49. Piper was shot and killed inside his home Saturday evening, but witnesses reported an encounter between CPD officers and the suspect, Charles Patrick Wayne Burgess, 28, earlier that same day at Piper’s home at 1325 Dripping Springs Road NW in the city of Cullman.   

The Tribune has confirmed that at approximately 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon, two CPD officers and one sergeant went to Piper’s home, responding to a call which, according to confirmed sources, informed them, “There’s a guy at my door with a gun.”  Witnesses reported seeing a man at the house who was open carrying a firearm and was “talking crazy.” Officers disarmed Burgess and ordered him to leave in an effort to defuse the situation, but the suspect reportedly returned a little more than three hours later with another gun, entered Piper’s residence and killed him.

Burgess, who was arrested a few hours later and charged with murder, has a criminal record for breaking into a vehicle and possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, but did not have a history of violent crime.  In the fall of 2018, he was arrested for criminal trespassing but was released on his own recognizance under current state bond law. When he recently failed to appear for his court date, an alias warrant was issued, and he was picked up last week.  Also under current state bond law, Burgess was again released with a promise to appear for his next court date.

On Monday, CPD Chief Kenny Culpepper responded to questions about why Burgess, who is facing criminal prosecution in other cases, was not arrested Saturday afternoon after the first call to Piper’s residence.

Culpepper told The Tribune, “We received a call to go to the address on Dripping Springs Road on April 13, 2019, about 3 in the afternoon, a little after 3 (for) some sort of disturbance.  And when the officers arrived, they found the subject and the homeowner and some other resident, and there was an argument or some back and forth, but the subject was not doing anything in their presence that would allow them to arrest (him), and had not done anything at that point in time that would allow them to arrest (him).  So they determined that the best course of action was to make him leave.

“And he was open carry, which in Alabama it’s legal to open carry without being a felon in possession of a weapon or some other circumstances, which did not apply.  That by itself is not illegal.”

Did the officers disarm him?

“They did, but they thought that would be the prudent thing to do, was to take his weapon and make him leave, and he did at that point in time.”

At 7:06 p.m. Saturday night, the CPD received another call.

“We received a call for a welfare check,” said Sgt. Cindy Rohrscheib, who said when an officer responded the victim was found deceased.

The police are not sure what time the shooting occurred.

“It had been a couple of hours since family had seen the victim,” said Rohrscheib.

As early in the investigation as investigators are, possible motives for the shooting and reasons for the suspect being at Piper’s home are not currently being discussed.

Said Culpepper, “It’s still under investigation at this time. That’s all I can say.”

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com