South Carolina Highway Patrol under investigation

The Charleston Post and Courier reported this past weekend that the SC Highway Patrol is under state and federal investigations for allegations of widespread use of excessive force against people stopped for traffic violations:

COLUMBIA — South Carolina Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. J.B. Sawyer kicked reckless driver Sergio Caridi in the head several times after he was subdued following a high-speed chase that ended on Interstate 95 in Sumter County, according to internal affairs documents reviewed Friday.

Of about 300 complaints lodged against state troopers since 2005, The Post and Courier was given access to review nearly 150 internal affairs documents from 2006 and 2007 in the wake of shakeups at the Highway Patrol and its parent agency, the state Department of Public Safety.

The newspaper learned, through the Freedom of Information Act, that the incident with Caridi in May 2006 and two others involved use of excessive force.

Caridi was hit with a stun gun and being restrained by officers when Sawyer kicked him in the head several times, investigators said. The incident was captured on tape by another officer’s dashboard camera.

Sawyer resigned from the Highway Patrol on Aug. 24, 2006, and is employed with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, according to documents.

SC state Senators are also conducting a review, and say their initial findings don’t show an indication of systemic problems with the SHP:

In all, though, state senators say the review of complaints in 2006 and 2007 doesn’t appear to show a systemic problem at the Highway Patrol. Of 237 complaints made in those two years, 51 had merit, and 101 cases are still under review by the agency. Sixty-one complaints were made against troopers in 2005.

Here’s more on the allegations:

Three other videos that show troopers mistreating black motorists also have been uncovered in the past month. In two of the tapes, troopers, one of whom is black, use their cruisers to hit fleeing suspects, and another shows a black woman handcuffed to the bumper of a cruiser for about 40 minutes and then left on the side of the road.

None of those troopers were fired.

Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, said the problems uncovered at Highway Patrol aren’t based on race.

“Nobody could call it racism — these are just some bad apples,” he said. “These are the people we have to weed out.”

Ford noted that blacks fill many high ranks at the Highway Patrol and played a hand in deciding what disciplinary actions to take in some of the cases that have been publicized.

Hopefully he’s right in that these are isolated incidents and not part of some bigger pattern of abuse on the part of the SCSHP. The public needs to have confidence in believing that law enforcement officers and officials are not abusing their authority. Those found to be in violation of the law should be punished to the fullest extent of it.

As the investigations continue, I have no doubt that we’ll see the usual suspects jump all over this story as a prime example of supposed rampant abuses of power within law enforcement all across the country, and they’ll do it in exactly the manner they do the US military: They’ll take the actions of a small percentage of bad apples and apply their venom not just to those suspected of wrongdoing, but every single person who has worn or is wearing a military uniform.

In their quests to paint everyone with the same brush, they forget that the vast majority are honorable public servants who put their lives at risk every day everytime they put on their uniform and badge, like Officers Sean Clark and Jeff Shelton who, a year ago yesterday, were killed in the line of duty here in Charlotte, NC. A midnight “Point in Time” service was held in their honor Monday.

Sure, there are always going to be rogue police officers and patrolmen out there who do a disservice to the profession by dishonoring their sworn commitment to obey and enforce the law, but there are many, many more like Officers Clark and Shelton, whose duty it is to respond to situations like “disturbance calls” in the middle of the night when most of us are safely tucked into our warm beds. And sometimes those officers never make it home from their shifts.

Here’s to the ones who continue to put it all on the line each and every day, and to the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice. You have my respect and gratitude – and prayers, too. Thank you and God bless you for doing what you do.

Related: I second this call to send a message to the Greensboro PD for an overreaction by one of their officers, which was reported here.

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