Why South Carolina Indicted Three White Cops in Past Four Months

Why South Carolina Indicted Three White Cops in Past Four Months

Did the exoneration of Ferguson officer Darren Wilson and Staten Island officer Daniel Pantaleo spark a change in the historically "law and order" Southern state?

Published December 5, 2014

(Richard Combs, the former police chief and sole officer in the small town of Eutawville, SC, fatally shot an unarmed Black man in 2011. Photo: REUTERS /HANDOUT /LANDOV)

Recent decisions not to charge white cops who have killed unarmed Black suspects have sparked a national debate on indictments and racial discrimination.

Protesters have been demonstrating and marching in New York, Ferguson, Mo., and beyond to critique the criminal justice system that exonerated officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo.

Amid the many articles examining the fairness of these grand jury decisions is a revealing AP piece spotlighting a particular state’s track record of police indictment.

Traditionally, South Carolina has been a major supporter of law and order with a long history of racial discrimination to match. But in the past four months, the Southern state has seen three law white enforcement officers indicted on charges involving their shootings. Two of those cases involved unarmed Black men.

Did the national spotlight on the brutal police deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner play a role? It’s very likely, a scholar expert told the Washington Post.

“Each prosecutor will take whatever stance he or she thinks is appropriate,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina professor specializing in the use of force by law enforcement. “They are political people for the most part, they have to understand that the nature of their decision is going to have a huge impact.”

On Wednesday, a white former police chief, Richard Combs, of a small South Carolina town called Eutawville was charged with murder in a police shooting four years ago that left Bernard Bailey, an unarmed Black man dead.

One of the prosecutors on the case had immediately called for a murder charge after the former chief’s “Stand Your Ground” self-dense defense was rejected by a judge last month, AP reports.

But former police chief Combs’s attorney believes the prosecutors were exploiting the nationwide backlash facing police and today’s justice system in order to land an indictment.

"He's trying to make it racial because his timing is perfect," attorney John O'Leary said, according to AP. "He's got all the national issues going on, so they want to drag him [Combs] in and say, 'Look what a great community we are here, because we're going to put a police officer who was doing his job in jail for 30 years.' That's wrong. That's completely wrong."

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Written by Patrice Peck

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