Columbia prosecutors delay case against SC NAACP president

nophillips@thestate.comJuly 26, 2013 

— City prosecutors want more time to review the circumstances around the arrest of the S.C. NAACP president.

But Joe McCulloch, attorney for Lonnie Randolph, said the delay on Friday was continuing to damage his client’s reputation. McCulloch urged prosecutors to change their minds, saying the ongoing problems with the Columbia Police Department are leading the public to view the case with cynicism.

“The city will feel much better when it quits hitting itself in the head with a hammer,” McCulloch said in the hearing in municipal court.

The 63-year-old Randolph was charged with disorderly conduct, trespass by reason of failure to vacate and resisting arrest on July 12 following an incident at a Five Points business.

Officers reported that Randolph had been asked to leave Tripp’s Fine Cleaners. When officers arrived, Randolph was outside and he became irritated, began moving back and forth and reaching into his pockets. He struggled with officers as they tried to put handcuffs on him, and the officers used force to get him into a patrol car, according to the incident report.

But McCulloch has said Randolph was suffering from a diabetic episode and has a history of similar situations. He submitted a dozen affidavits signed by community leaders, including Sheriff Leon Lott and S.C. Rep. Kirkman Finlay, who said they were aware of similar spells caused by Randolph’s diabetes.

McCulloch also released a video from outside the dry cleaner that shows Randolph staggering before two officers grab him. They move behind an SUV and out of the camera’s view as they all three appear to fall to the ground.

The officers’ rough handling of Randolph caused some of his teeth to be knocked out, McCulloch said.

City prosecutor David Fernandez told Judge Steedley Bogan that he needed more time to review the affidavits and interview witnesses at the scene.

“The city has not taken a position yet on whether we are going to prosecute,” Fernandez said.

And the police officers who arrested Randolph have requested a jury trial.

Bogan said Fernandez’s request meant that he could not rule on the affidavits or McCulloch’s request to dismiss the charges.

Tripp Penninger, the owner of the dry cleaning business, declined to comment on the case.

The case has created controversy not just because of Randolph’s standing in the community and his diabetes but because of the city’s handling of the situation. City manager Teresa Wilson showed up at the scene and interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago said days after the arrest that the charges would be dropped.

Mayor Steve Benjamin weighed in by writing a two-page letter saying crime scenes were no place for politicians or city officials. He plans to propose a policy be adopted by City Council that would bar them from doing so.

McCulloch brought up all of those things in Friday’s hearing. He also raised the issue of an ongoing SLED investigation into allegations against Santiago and a former captain, who was fired earlier this month for insubordination, spreading rumors and secretly recording a phone call.

Earlier this week, David Navarro sued the city and used Randolph’s arrest to support his claims that the police department shows favoritism to certain residents.

“We’re in a unique time in our city’s history, with a swirl of allegations,” McCulloch said. “My goal is to remove Dr. Randolph from that swirl.”

VIDEO: McCulloch discusses the case

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