UPDATE: Columbia police decide to drop charges against SC NAACP chief

cleblanc@thestate.com, tflach@thestate.comJuly 16, 2013 

Columbia police, citing medical reasons, plan to drop charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest against state NAACP leader Lonnie Randolph stemming from a confrontation at a Five Points dry cleaner.

“When we go to court, we’re going to tell the judge we do not want to proceed with these charges,” interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago said Wednesday afternoon. “For medical reasons, we know he was not himself.”

The interim chief said he has known the civil rights organization’s top South Carolina official for years and has been aware that Randolph has diabetes.

Police charged Randolph on Friday after a confrontation about 7:15 p.m. with employees and police at Tripp’s Fine Cleaners at 830 Harden St. The charges, which include trespassing, are all misdemeanors.

Randolph’s attorney, Joe McCulloch, said of the Police Department’s decision to drop the case: “I’m ecstatic. He was clearly in medical distress.”

McCulloch said a court hearing Wednesday was postponed, but a new date has yet to be scheduled.

The attorney characterized Randolph’s case as “a cascade of misunderstandings” stemming from his disease.

An employee at the cleaner called police and told officers that Randolph, 63, refused to pay his bill, refused to leave the premises after being asked several times and then began to act erratically.

Once police escorted Randolph out of the business, the employee told officers the manager wanted Randolph banned from the business. Randolph responded by becoming agitated and acting erratically.

Randolph raised his voice and resisted officers’ attempts to move him to a patrol car, according to the police report. After a brief tussle, which included an officer attempting to subdue him by kneeing Randolph in the leg twice and striking him on the chest once, Randolph was put in the patrol car.

Paramedics were called to the scene and Randolph refused medical attention. Santiago said he instructed his officers to take Randolph to Palmetto Health Richland by ambulance. Randolph again declined treatment.

Santiago said his officers called him at home and told him of the developments. Santiago said Officer Michael Cross, who has been on the force about a year, wrote the ticket. Santiago said he did not instruct Cross which charges to file.

City manager Teresa Wilson also was informed and went to the business. Santiago said he was not at the dry cleaner.

Wilson said she was in the vicinity of Five Points when she learned of the incident with Randolph. “It is not uncommon, when I deem it necessary, to go on scene. Actually, it is my responsibility to do so based on the circumstances.”

She said she has known about Randolph’s diabetes and the symptoms he displayed.

Wilson said Randolph had been taken to the hospital by the time she arrived at the dry cleaner.

Before McCulloch learned of the decision to drop the case, he said he spent the day talking with police and city officials about the incident.

“Though a longtime customer at the Five Points business, last Friday he (Randolph) encountered an employee who did not know him and who was unaware of his diabetic condition, and not recognizing his disorientation for what it was, the police rather than EMS (paramedics) were summoned,” McCulloch said in a statement. “The misinterpretation by the employee continued upon the arrival of the police, who likewise did not recognize the situation to be a health issue.”

McCulloch said Randolph tries to control the disease. But, “... these events occur and are frequently misinterpreted by laypeople and even law enforcement, which is the case here.

“This medical issue for Dr. Randolph is well known to his family and close friends who support him in dealing with the disease.”

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664. Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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