Orangeburg and Greenwood County Solicitors publicly sanction police misconduct

About 2 dozen videos depicting police misconduct by the South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP) have been released in the past few months. The ones that I’ve seen include a trooper ramming a fleeing motorcyclist head on, a trooper running up and repeatedly kicking a man who was lying face-down on the ground after a high speed chase, a trooper ramming a fleeing suspect with his patrol car (and later stating on the video that he did it on purpose), and a trooper striking a man who was lying on the ground in the head with his shotgun. As far as I know, none of the troopers have been prosecuted for their crimes.
Yesterday, two Circuit Solicitors defended the troopers’ actions in statements to the media and re-affirmed that they will not be prosecuting them. Solicitor Jerry Peace in Greenwood County, referring to an incident where a trooper strikes a fleeing suspect with his patrol car, says, “If I got a choice between a defendant getting his head cracked and an officer getting killed, I’ll take the defendant getting his head cracked every time.” Beautiful. Of course, the defendant here didn’t get his head cracked, he was run down with a patrol car. And, after he strikes the man with his patrol car, he tells other officers, “I nailed the [expletive] out of him. I was trying to hit him.”
Solicitor Jerry Peace says, “Overzealous prosecution of officers could jeopardize officers’ lives if it made them more hesitant than necessary to use force.” We certainly wouldn’t want to discourage troopers from nailing the [expletive] out of suspects with their patrol cars..
In Orangeburg County, Cpl. Michael D. Tomson, a white trooper, hits a black man with his shotgun, while the man is lying on the ground following a high speed chase. The victim/suspect says that the blow caused his face to swell and bleed, although this is not seen on the video. The trooper admitted that the barrel of the gun made contact with the man’s cheek, and said that his gun “slipped.” Orangeburg County Solicitor David Pascoe stated that, although the trooper did not use proper protocol, he did not believe there was any criminal intent. (Apparently criminal intent is a requirement to charge someone with a crime, after all) Cpl. Tomson was demoted to lance corporal and “reassigned.” He is appealing that punishment.

In Richland County, a video was released recently of another trooper, Lance Cpl. Alexander Richardson, in his patrol car jumping curbs and plowing through an apartment complex yard where children were present while chasing a man who was on foot. On the video, the trooper eventually hit the man with his patrol car. According to the same Sun News article, spokesmen for the Attorney General’s Office and for 5th Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese stated that they had no record of the case even being referred to them for review. The trooper did, however, receive a letter of reprimand.
I don’t have any doubt that purposefully striking a person with an automobile can, should, and usually is prosecuted as assault and battery with intent to kill (ABWIK – aka attempted murder). It should be obvious that we cannot look to the Circuit Solicitor’s Offices to prosecute crimes committed by local law enforcement; there is a glaring conflict. I thought we looked to the Attorney General’s Office or the Feds to prosecute crimes when local prosecutors are unable due to a conflict of interest.
What we are seeing are only the incidents that were caught on videotapes, and only the videotapes that have been preserved and released to the public. I believe that this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to police abuse in S.C. I also believe that if action is not taken to prosecute crimes committed by law enforcement, if we continue to send a message that law enforcement can do anything they want with impunity, the scope and severity of police abuse is going to continue to grow in South Carolina.

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