An 86-year-old South Carolina man was in intensive care Thursday after being shocked with a Taser by a Kingstree police officer during a traffic stop, according to an attorney representing the motorist.
Albert Chatfield was taken to McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence on Monday with a broken nose, lacerations to his face and head and bleeding in three spots on his brain, said state Rep. Justin Bamberg, an attorney who is representing Chatfield.
Kingstree Police Chief James Barr Jr. said an officer used the Taser after Chatfield exited his vehicle, began yelling at officers, and started stepping backward towards traffic.
Officers stopped Chatfield after a 911 caller reported just before 8 a.m. Monday that a driver in a white SUV was tailgating a car and not allowing the driver to turn, Barr told The State newspaper on Thursday. Two officers in separate patrol cars spotted Chatfield’s white Ford Explorer in the town limits.
Barr said he would not identify the officers involved, citing the ongoing investigation. However, officer Stephen Sweikata wrote in an incident report that he pursued Chatfield. A copy of the incident report was provided to The State newspaper.
Chatfield is black. The report does not indicate the race of the two Kingstree officers.
Sweikata saw Chatfield’s SUV and started to make a U-turn to follow him, but Chatfield made a U-turn to avoid the officer, the report states.
“Mr. Chatfield took them on a quarter-of-a-mile chase before he stopped,” Barr said. “Once his vehicle came to a stop, he jumped out of his vehicle and headed toward law enforcement in a rage. Officers were giving him commands to stand down and stop.”
Chatfield continued yelling at the officers on the side of the road and “took up a fighting stance” against Sweikata, the report states.
“He was just hollering, really not making sense,” Barr said.
Sweikata deployed his Taser on Chatfield, with the prongs striking Chatfield in the chest and rib areas, the report states. Barr said the officer shocked Chatfield for one five-second cycle.
Chatfield fell onto his back, was handcuffed and moved away from traffic, according to Barr and the incident report. He appeared to be disoriented but was still responsive and communicating when EMS arrived, Barr said.
The incident report describes Chatfield as 5-foot-9 and 173 pounds. When asked why the officers did not physically subdue Chatfield, Barr said the Taser was the last resort because of Chatfield’s stance toward officers and the danger he posed to himself by stepping closer to traffic. No charges have been filed.
Bamberg, the attorney representing Chatfield, said his client was not armed and never fought with the officers.
“Unless the officers reasonably felt that Mr. Chatfield was a threat of serious bodily injury to themselves or to a third party, they should not have tased him in the first place,” he said.
He noted that the incident report says Chatfield was “walking/jogging” backward in the lanes of traffic, and questioned how he could be aggressive with officers if he was backing away from them.
“It’s my understanding he was never close enough to touch anybody, nor did he act like he was about to attack anybody,” Bamberg said. “He just wasn’t listening.”
Chatfield was taken to Williamsburg Regional Hospital and later airlifted to McLeod Regional Medical Center.
At McLeod, Chatfield was put into a medically-induced coma, which he is now out of, Bamberg said. He cannot talk beyond mumbles and groans, and has a pacemaker which doctors are still testing to see if it was damaged by the Taser.
“Him being tased did not cause the medical condition that he was having,” Barr said. “He was having some preexisting conditions that the family knew some of.”
Chatfield’s daughter told a doctor at Williamsburg Regional that her father “had acted out with her” Saturday, and that she believed he was not taking his prescribed medication, according to the police incident report.
“At 86 years old, he's in his right mind most of the time but he will also have periods of confusion or paranoia,” Bamberg said. “That is what they are referring to with regard to his condition.”
Each officer was wearing a body camera that was working and activated during the traffic stop, Barr said. There also is dashcam footage of the incident, he said.
Barr said no footage will be released while the case is under investigation. The State newspaper has requested a copy of the footage under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
Kingstree, a town of about 3,200 residents, is located about 80 miles east of Columbia.