On the same day a grand jury in the Staten Island borough of New York City declined to indict white police officer Daniel Pantaleo for placing Eric Garner in a banned choke-hold that led to the unarmed black man’s death, a grand jury in South Carolina returned a murder indictment in a case with similar overtones. In Orangeburg, S.C., a grand jury found cause to indict Richard Combs, the former police chief of Eutawville — population 300, of which about one-third is black — in the shooting death of unarmed black man Bernard Bailey, 54.
The indictment is remarkable for two reasons.
First, the actual shooting occurred more than three and a half years ago when Bailey went to the town hall to dispute a ticket his daughter had received for a broken taillight in May 2011. At some point, Combs tried to arrest Bailey for obstructing justice, which Bailey, like Garner apparently resisted nonviolently. When Bailey got back inside his pickup truck, Combs attempted to enter the vehicle, where Combs said he got tangled in the steering wheel. Fearing that Bailey might drive away while he was stuck, Combs said, he shot Bailey twice in the chest while he was in the truck.
Second, the state is bringing the charges against Combs even after investigators from the U.S. Department of Justice determined last year that Combs did not violate Bailey’s civil rights. This is the opposite of what’s happening in the Garner case, as well as in the shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., where the Department of Justice is looking into possible civil rights violations after state grand juries declined to indict the officers.
Had they been indicted, there would’ve been bond hearings to determine what if any bail they would receive. Here’s what that looks like:
In April 2014, a $400,000 settlement was reached between officials and Bailey’s family. After the shooting, Combs was placed on leave and eventually terminated by the department.
Combs’ indictment makes him the third white South Carolina police officer currently awaiting trial in the shooting of an unarmed black man. In September, state trooper Sean Groubert shot Levar Jones at a gas station as the former was citing Jones for a seat belt violation at a gas station. That incident was caught on video by Groubert’s dashboard camera. Jones survived the shooting.
Also in September, a 68 year-old unarmed black man named Ernest Satterwhite was killed after leading police on a “slow speed chase” that ended when he pulled into his driveway and was shot several times through the driver’s side door by Officer Justin Craven. The grand jury in that case indicted Craven on a misdemeanor, but the prosecutor had sought a manslaughter charge.
As much as some bash southern states like South Carolina for poor race relations, these recent indictments show that New York City might be able to learn a thing or two from the Palmetto State about dealing with killer cops.