Cops took man to DUI test, not hospital, after crash, lawyer says. He died days later

UPDATE: Paul Kelly, the officer who arrested Nathaniel Rhodes, has been suspended, WCSC reports. Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds announced the suspension with pay on Monday, the station reports, the day after the story first aired on NBC News.

ORIGINAL STORY: A 58-year-old Charleston, South Carolina, man had eight broken ribs and other internal injuries when he was taken off an ambulance and given a sobriety test, according to the attorney for the man’s family. Nathaniel Rhodes lost consciousness at the police station, video shows, and he died four days later.

Police had a form that said Nathaniel Rhodes did not want to be taken to the hospital, but it was signed by a police officer, not Rhodes, attorney Justin Bamberg said in a press conference Monday that was broadcast live over social media.

Police and emergency medical technicians denied “emergency medical care to a man who was slowly dying,” Bamberg said. Police and EMS “violated every oath, every policy, every procedure,” he said.

Charleston police are now asking the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to investigate what led to Rhodes’s death, WCSC reports. In a statement, Charleston’s police chief said a document “raised questions about whether their police officers followed proper procedures” when they took Rhodes to the police station, according to WCSC.

“After NBC News started asking questions about the case, Charleston’s police chief asked the state to conduct an independent investigation,” NBC reporter Gabe Gutierrez said in the story that aired Sunday night.

Rhodes got into a car crash in August 2018, WCBD reports, and police say he had an open container in the car. Officers gave Rhodes roadside sobriety tests and then took him to the station for a breathalyzer test, according to WCBD.

Video provided by the law firm shows Rhodes losing consciousness in the police station.

“He should have been taken straight, directly to the hospital,” Annette Rhodes, his wife, told NBC News.

“We want peace and we want answers,” Rhodes’s daughter, Megan Rhodes, said during the press conference. “We want change.”

Bamberg also highlighted the missing videos in the case. Body camera videos from that day were deleted and there was a “software malfunction” with the dashcam videos. The one video the attorneys do have are from the police station.

“Fortunately, SLED has a pretty good document retention policy,” Bamberg said.

That video shows Rhodes struggling to breathe and losing consciousness in the police department. Bamberg criticized the EMS and police with Rhodes in the station. EMS at the police station “laughed at” Rhodes as he struggled, Bamberg said, and refused to take him to the hospital until he signed a form.

In a statement, Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds said, “The loss of a life is always tragic and must be taken very seriously. I have requested that SLED conduct a thorough investigation into this matter. The Charleston Police Department is committed to protecting and serving the people of our city, while always being transparent and accountable for our actions in the process,” WCBD reports.

Police turned the investigation into the death over to the state Friday, the Charleston Post & Courier reported. The two-car crash happened just after 5 p.m. on Aug. 12, 2018, the newspaper reported.

Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.