The Lawyer of a white police chief who fatally shot an unarmed black male in South Carolina in 2011, has blamed national outrage in the wake of the Ferguson verdict, for his client’s subsequent charge of murder.
Richard Combs, who was the former police chief and sole officer in the small town of Eutawville, was indicted the very same day as a New York grand jury chose not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo for causing the death of Eric Garner by use of a restraining chokehold.
Combs’ was charged with the murder of Bernard Bailey less that two weeks after the Ferguson verdict, which ruled Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Both the Ferguson and the Garner cases have sparked mass unrest and protests across America. Combs’s lawyer believes that his client’s indictment is unfair and has accused prosecutors of exploiting the high-levels of national outrage towards police within the U.S. to make the murder charge stick.
Combs’s attorney John O’ Leary told the Business Insider that he questioned why prosecutors waited almost four years to ask for the murder charge. Combs had previously been indicted with misconduct in office.
O’ Leary accused Solicitor David Pascoe of, “Trying to make it racial. He’s got all the national issues going on.”
Pascoe denied this and explained that he told Combs’ lawyers a year ago that he would pursue a murder charge if a judge rejected Combs’ claim of self-defense. A judge ruled against the defense’s “stand your ground” motion earlier this week.
Combs’ hometown of Eutaville has a population of 300, one third of which are black. Combs became involved in a confrontation with Bernard Bailey, when the man arrived at Town Hall to query the broken-twilight ticket his daughter received in May 2011.
During the heated exchange, prosecutors claimed that Combs tried to arrest Bailey for obstruction of justice. Bailey attempted to return to his truck but Combs tried to get inside to switch off the ignition. The two men fought which ended with Combs shooting Bailey twice in the chest.
Combs explained that he was tangled in Bailey’s steering as he attempted to switch the engine off and was worried he might be killed if Bailey drove away. Prosecutors argue that Combs acted aggressively and escalated an already aggravated situation by following Bailey as he attempted to leave.
Combs was placed on leave after the shooting, and the town let him go six months later.Following a U.S. Justice Department investigation which determined Combs did not violate Bailey’s civil rights, state investigators began reviewing the shooting in March 2013. In August 2013 Combs was charged with misconduct in office, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Combs’ trial for the lesser charge was scheduled to start next week but following his indictment, the murder trial is not expected to begin until at least 2015. Combs’ bail is set at $150,000.
Bailey’s family are satisfied with the murder indictment, but don’t think the incident can be compared with what happened in Ferguson because Eutawville is a small town where everybody knows everyone.
“That is comparing oranges and apples,” said Bailey’s widow, Doris Bailey.
Combs is the third officer in South Carolina to be charged this year for an on-duty shooting. A 68-year-old unarmed black man was shot at his home after a chase by a white police officer in North Augusta, and a state trooper is charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature after shooting an unarmed black man who reached in his car to get his wallet after being pulled over. Both officers are awaiting trials.