White Former S. Carolina Police Chief Charged with Murdering Unarmed Black Man
A white former police chief of a small South Carolina town has been charged with murder in connection with the 2011 shooting death of an unarmed black man.
Richard Combs appeared in an Orangeburg County court on Thursday for a bond hearing, WLTX reports. The 53-year-old former chief of the Eutawville Police Department shot and killed 54-year-old Bernard Bailey outside department headquarters on May 2, 2011.
The Associated Press reports Bailey’s daughter received a traffic ticket from Combs for a broken taillight and called her father to the scene. Bailey and the chief argued but went their separate ways. Combs then obtained an arrest warrant for Bailey on a charge of obstruction of justice.
When Bailey went to the police department a few days later to argue his daughter’s ticket, Combs attempted to arrest him. According to prosecutors, Bailey left the building and returned to his truck. Combs attempted to get into the vehicle to turn off the ignition. A brief fight ensued and Combs fired his gun multiple times. A coroner’s report states Bailey was shot twice in the chest and once in the shoulder.
Combs claims he was tangled in the steering wheel of Bailey’s truck and feared for his life if Bailey, a 6’6″ (1.98 m) former corrections officer, drove away.
No charges were initially filed against Combs. Following FBI and state investigations, however, he was charged with misconduct last August, with the indictment alleging he used unnecessary deadly force.
On November 19, the Orangeburg Times and Democrat reported Combs would invoke South Carolina’s ‘stand your ground’ law, which allows the use of deadly force in self-defense in a home or vehicle. But according to court documents, Circuit Court Judge Edgar W. Dickson rejected Comb’s ‘stand your ground’ claim on November 25, writing that Bailey was clearly attempting to leave and that the chief initiated the deadly confrontation at the victim’s vehicle.
Dickson also wrote that Bailey posed no threat to the public. First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe subsequently filed a murder charge against Combs on Wednesday.
Wally Fayssoux, one of Combs’ lawyers, argued his client “had no choice” but to shoot Bailey, who had put him in “an impossible situation.” Another member of the former chief’s legal team, John O’Leary, accused the prosecutor of trying to capitalize on the widespread racial tension and outrage over the killing of unarmed black men and boys like Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice by white police officers.
“He’s trying to make it racial because his timing is perfect,” O’Leary said of Pascoe. “He’s got all the national issues going on, so they want to drag him 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.”
Carl Grant, the Bailey family attorney, denied that recent events in Ferguson and New York had anything to do with the prosecution’s timing of the indictment, which had been planned for more than a year.
“The family was simply looking for some sense of justice that represents what actually happened, in their mind,” Grant told Reuters. “This indictment for murder is not something the solicitor decided to do at the last minute or in light of today’s media.”
Doris Bailey, Bernard’s widow, welcomed news of the murder indictment.
“We’ve been waiting for this,” she told WLTX. “It’s really taken its toll on the family…Mr. Bailey was a good man, a very good provider and we all miss him greatly.”
In 2012, Bailey’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the town of Eutawville and Combs, eventually agreeing to drop the suit in exchange for a$400,000 settlement in April 2014.
Combs faces 30 years to life imprisonment if found guilty. Judge Dickson set his bail at $150,000.