(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.
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.
“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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