In a case with several parallels to both the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, a South Carolina grand jury indicted a white police officer with murder Wednesday for the shooting of an unarmed black man. Despite the significant parallels and timing, however, the national media has largely ignored the story.
In May 2011, Bernard Bailey, a 54-year-old African American, came to the Eutawville(population 300) police department to complain about his daughter’s recent taillight ticket. When Police Chief Richard Combs, 35, attempted to arrest Bailey for obstruction of justice, Bailey refused and marched outside to his truck. Combs pursued Bailey to his truck and attempted to turn off the ignition, which resulted in a physical struggle between the two, ending with Combs shooting Bailey twice in the chest.
Though Combs claimed that his arm was tangled in the steering wheel and feared for his life should Bailey drive away, prosecutors said Combs had initiated the struggle that led to Bailey’s death.
Wednesday, an Orangeburg County grand jury agreed with the prosecutors, indicting Combs for murder, which carries a 30 years to life sentence—a far harsher penalty than the original “misconduct in office” charge brought by prosecutors, carrying a 10-year maximum prison sentence.
Bailey’s family reached a $400,000 wrongful death settlement with the city in August.
AP reports that Combs is the third officer charged for on-duty shooting in South Carolina this year:
A white police officer in North Augusta was charged with misconduct in office in August in the shooting death of a 68-year-old unarmed black man at his home after a chase. A state trooper was charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature in September when he shot an unarmed black man he had pulled over as the man reached in his car to get his wallet. That shooting was captured on the trooper’s dashboard camera and shown around the world. Both officers are awaiting trials.