Systemic Racism in Columbia, SC – Refusal to Stop on Command of Officer

In 2017, 133 people were charged in the City of Columbia under municipal ordinance Sec. 10-36, “refusal to stop on command of officer.”

116 of those 133 people were Black, including at least 11 juveniles as young as 13 years old (the race of two juveniles were classified as “unknown.”)

What’s going on here? Black people just don’t listen?

What is the municipal crime of “refusal to stop on command of officer?” Is the ordinance even constitutional? How does the City of Columbia justify the overwhelming use of this ordinance – 89% of all persons arrested – against non-white citizens?

“Failure to stop on police command” is a municipal ordinance – there are state laws that apply everywhere in the state, and then there are municipal codes that apply only in city limits. The ordinance states:

It shall be unlawful for any person in the city to willfully and knowingly fail or refuse to stop when signaled, hailed or commanded to stop by a police officer or other officer of the city.

Based on the selective enforcement of the statute, perhaps it should read, “It shall be unlawful for any black person in the city to willfully and knowingly fail or refuse to stop…?”

The Ordinance is Unconstitutional

When a police officer orders a person to stop or commands a person to “come here,” that is a seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

And Article 1, Section 10 of the SC Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures and unreasonable invasions of privacy shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, the person or thing to be seized, and the information to be obtained.

How is the ordinance unconstitutional?

Any Arrest Solely for Violation of the Ordinance is an Unconstitutional Seizure

With few exceptions, police do not have the right or authority to force people to stop, come here, or to do anything unless there is, at a minimum, reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed. If a person has just committed a crime in the officer’s presence, or if the officer has a warrant for the person’s arrest, the officer can “signal, hail, or command” the person to stop.

Even then, they are not guilty of the state law charge of “resisting arrest” unless they have submitted to the arrest or the officer has physically restrained them (seeState v. Brannon).

When a police officer detains, seizes, or arrests a person without probable cause, that is a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution which should result in 1) the charges being dismissed and 2) a section 1983 civil rights lawsuit against the police officer.

Can a police officer say to a person, “Stop! Come over here!”?

Of course, they can. If the person refuses, can the officer force the person to do what they say? Or, can the officer arrest the person if they ignore the officer and walk away?

No – unless they have probable cause that a crime is being committed or unless they have an arrest warrant signed by a judge, they do not have the authority or the right to detain a person, much less arrest them and charge them with a crime.

The Ordinance is Unconstitutional Because it Criminalizes Conduct Not Criminal Under State Law

The South Carolina Supreme Court has repeatedly held that “Article VIII § 14(5) of our constitution requires statewide uniformity of general law provisions regarding ‘criminal laws and the penalties and sanctions for the transgression thereof.’ Accordingly, local governments may not criminalize conduct that is legal under a statewide criminal law.” Martin v. Condon, 324 S.C. 183, 188, 478 S.E.2d 272, 274 (1996); Connor v. Town of Hilton Head, 314 S.C. 251, 422 S.E.2d 608 (1994); City of North Charleston v. Harper, 306 S.C. 153, 410 S.E.2d 569 (1991).

Making it a crime to refuse to respond to a police command to “come here” is not only unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment, but it also violates the requirement of uniformity of municipal and state statutes.

It is not a crime under any state statute to refuse to obey a police command to halt or “come here” when there is no reasonable suspicion or probable cause – that’s not a lawful command.

Following the ordinance, the City of Columbia references two state statutes, apparently to demonstrate that the ordinance is consistent with state law:

  • SC Code Section 56-5-740, a traffic law making it a misdemeanor to refuse to obey any lawful order of “any police officer, fireman or uniformed adult school crossing guard invested by law with authority to direct, control or regulate traffic;” and
  • SC Code Section 5-7-110, which authorizes municipalities to hire police officers and permits municipalities to contract with utilities or corporations to provide police protection outside of city limits.

Umm, no.

Again, it is not a crime under any state statute to refuse to obey a police command to halt or “come here” when there is no reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Yes, there are exceptions for things like school crossing guards or officers directing traffic.

The Ordinance is Overwhelmingly Used Against Blacks

Here we are.

Although the ordinance is unconstitutional regardless of who is arrested under it, it is made particularly offensive when we realize that it is used selectively against the City of Columbia’s black residents.

Who was charged with “refusal to stop on command of officer” in the City of Columbia in 2017?

  • 115 black men;
  • 1 black woman;
  • 13 white men;
  • 1 white woman;
  • 1 Indian; and
  • 2 unknown.

11 of the black men were juveniles. The two “unknowns” were also juveniles.

Not counting the “unknowns,” there were 131 total arrests. 88% of those charged were black males. 89% of those charged were non-white. 11% of those charged were white.

According to 2010 US Census Bureau data, 40.9% of the City of Columbia’s population was black in 2010 and 52.3% of the City of Columbia’s population was white (including the Latino and Hispanic population).

Note that the City of Columbia is classifying Hispanic and Latino persons as white, which makes it impossible to know the exact percent of non-whites that were charged with “failure to stop on police command.”

We can assume, however, that the number of white persons charged would be less than what was reported if they did not include Hispanics or Latinos as “white” (Juan [redacted], I’m looking at you…).

What Should I Do if I’m Charged with “Failure to Stop on Police Command” in the City of Columbia?

Do not plead guilty. Do not pay a fine. Do not go to a pre-trial diversion program. Call a criminal defense attorney immediately and fight the charges.

Odds are, when you were charged with “refusal to stop on command of officer,” you had no idea that you were, at that moment, a victim of systemic racism in the City of Columbia.

Now you know.

Call the Thompson Defense Firm now at 843-444-6122 or fill out our contact form for a free case evaluation and consultation.

refusal to stop on command of officer

3 Responses to “Systemic Racism in Columbia, SC – Refusal to Stop on Command of Officer

  • “If you were targeted and charged under the ordinance because you are not a white person, you may have a civil lawsuit against the City of Columbia…”

    Well, you hit one of my hot buttons. Your statement above seems to indicate that ONLY non-white people “may” file a section 1983 civil rights lawsuit against the Constitutional infringement.

    Please choose your words more carefully.

    Chaz

    • You are right, that line was poorly written. I revised it. Regardless of race, the ordinance is unconstitutional and the person charged may have a civil claim against the City. Selective enforcement of the ordinance against the 89% may be a separate Equal Protection claim.

      As far as I know, nothing is being done about it yet. I encourage anyone charged under this ordinance to call us for a consultation and case review.

  • Forgot to ask – has anyone done anything to challenge the ordinance?

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