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Family Of Man Sued A Small Town After He Was Killed By A Police Officer. A Federal Jury Awarded Them $97.5M. The Town's Annual Budget Is $600,000.


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More bad apples to ruin the bunch.  Seriously, when will ENOUGH be ENOUGH.




COTTAGEVILLE - A mix of shock, joy and uncertainty buzzed in this tiny, rural community Thursday as residents contemplated how the town might pay a court judgment so large it could fund the local budget for the next 162 years.

Mayor Tim Grimsley, a white-bearded Santa Claus figure who drives an old VW van, said business was normal in the wake of a $97.5 million award by a federal jury to the family of a town leader fatally shot by a Cottageville police officer three years ago.

"It's such an astronomical amount," Grimsley said outside Town Hall Thursday afternoon. "Everybody I talked to said, 'Is this for real?'?"

"I plan to go forward," he said, citing plans to renovate the gym and build a park and a library.

But others weren't so sure, predicting that the award, if it stands, could send this little burg between Summerville and Walterboro into bankruptcy or worse.

The town has $1 million in coverage through the S.C. Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund. But that likely wouldn't even pay the interest on any loan they'd find to cover what's owed to the family of slain former Mayor Bert Reeves.

"I don't think they'll ever collect that money because the town doesn't have any money," former Town Councilman Jimmy Ramsey said. "I don't know if we'll have to go bankrupt, but I'm not sure we're going to be able to survive as a town either."
Cottageville Mayor Tim Grimsley, sitting in his 1983 VW van outside town hall Thursday afternoon, says a multi-million-dollar jury award is too “astronomical” to take seriously. Dave Munday/staff

Grimsley said most folks in this of town around 750 people aren't panicking yet. Many can't even wrap their heads around the $97.5 million figure, he said. That's not surprising given the fact that the town's annual budget is a little less than $600,000. Besides, he said, many expect the final judgment will be whittled down as motions and possible appeals go forward.

A federal jury handed down the judgment late Wednesday following a nine-day trial in U.S. District Court in Charleston. The case stemmed from a May 16, 2011, incident in which Randall Price, an officer with a questionable record, shot Reeves in the chest during an argument. Price claimed self-defense, but Reeves' family alleged negligence in a wrongful-death suit against the town, the police department and Price.

If the case had been tried in state court, the town's damages would have been limited under South Carolina's tort law to $300,000 per individual or $600,000 per event. But the Reeves' family alleged civil-rights violations that kept the suit in federal court, where awards can exceed the state cap. The jury, in fact, sided with the Reeves family on all counts, including allegations that the town had been negligent in hiring Price and that the officer had used excessive force against the former mayor.

The resulting award includes $7.5 million in actual damages, $60 million in punitive damages against the town and $30 million in punitive damages against Price, who was let go by the town about three months after the shooting.

"I cannot thank the jury enough for their courage to do justice in this case," Ashley Reeves, the former mayor's widow, said in a written statement. "My children take great comfort in knowing their father's name has been cleared and that this officer will no longer carry a gun and a badge."
Enlarge  Cottageville Mayor Tim Grimsley’s VW van sits outside town hall Thursday afternoon, a day after a jury said the town owes the family of a man shot by a former police officer $60 million. Grimsely called the figure too “astronomical” to take seriously. Dave Munday/staff

Price's attorney, Lake Summers, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday night or Thursday. The town's attorney, Vinton "Dee" Lide, was said to be away from his office Thursday and unavailable for comment.

Patrick Hubbard, a tort law professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, said a number of things could still occur to reduce the final judgment, including a required review of punitive damages by the judge. An appeal could also be in the cards.

"I would be surprised if the defendants are not already working on their post-judgment options," he said.

Constance Anastopoulo, an associate professor at the Charleston School of Law, agreed. She said she personally doubts the judgment will stand as is, but having the verdict go against them could "make the defendants a little more pliable in terms of reaching a settlement."

George Addison, another former mayor and town councilman, said the people he spoke to around town Thursday seemed happy with the "just verdict" the Reeves family had received. "The mood in town is that justice was served," he said.

Addison is among those who expect the town will go bankrupt and hand its control over to Colleton County government. He thinks it's for the best, as the town offers few services and has little tax base, essentially forcing its police officers to write a blizzard of tickets to generate enough money to pay their salaries, he said.

"That's not fair to the officers or the citizens," he said.

During the case, it was revealed that Price alone brought in more than $600,000 writing tickets from 2008 to 2011, according to Mullins McLeod, attorney for the Reeves' family.

"Police should not have a financial incentive to target their own citizens," he said. "That runs contrary to the very principles of policing."

Price came to Cottageville in 2008 following a string of terminations across the state for insubordination, dangerous use of firearms and other alleged acts of misconduct. His ticket-writing ability led town officials to ignore his tactics, but others, including Reeves, weren't pleased, McLeod said. McLeod told the jury Price shot Reeves on a dirt road near Town Hall because the ex-mayor raised concerns about the officer's "aggressive behavior."

The controversy over the shooting nearly led the town to disband its police department. McLeod said the town should revisit that issue and consider dumping the police department in favor of a substation for Colleton County sheriff's deputies. "That would make the town safer overnight," he said.

The town only had one full-time police officer for years. Grimsley added several more after he took office last October.

Lifelong resident Esther Womble, 73, lives by the Dollar General in the house her parents owned. She said residents had been complaining for years that the town's officers were rude and arrogant. She hopes the verdict sends a message that police officers should treat people with more respect.

"They made you feel small," she said. "I hope this will calm them down. ... I hope we can go back to the friendly town it used to be."

Edited by garyfisher
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Before he shot and killed the mayor, a journalist wrote an article about his reputation and past.




OTTAGEVILLE -- Officer Randall Price understands why many police departments wouldn't hire him. After cycling through eight jobs in 11 years, his work history is marred by multiple firings, allegations of misconduct and brutality claims.

On paper, Price appears to be the quintessential "gypsy cop," an itinerant officer who hops from job to job, leaving turmoil and bad blood in his wake. Price, who now works for the Cottageville police, puts it even more bluntly.

"On paper, I am a big dirtbag," he said, shaking his head.

Price, 38, insists he is the victim of small-town politics and vendettas waged by municipal officials who got angry when he arrested their friends, relatives or neighbors. Stepping on powerful toes had a ruinous effect on his career, he said, producing a checkered work history that haunts him.

"I've never been ashamed about it and I've never tried to hide it," he said. "But it has cost me a lot of money and aggravation. I wouldn't wish it on anyone."

Price's travails earned him a spot in The Post and Courier's 2005 series "Tarnished Badges," which described how officers with problem pasts continue to find work, aided by police who protect their own and departments desperate for experienced, certified officers. The series spurred the state to tighten reporting and monitoring requirements for police misconduct. That has helped officials identify and remove several notorious cops.

But state officials concede it remains difficult to determine what to do in cases where misbehavior doesn't rise to the level of a crime and where allegations aren't backed by detailed documentation. That allows some officers to compile lengthy disciplinary records yet continue carrying a badge and gun.

A raw deal?

Price's boss, Police Chief Anthony "Shane" Roberts, said he had serious reservations when he first learned of Price's past. He's now convinced Price got a raw deal from small-town officials. Roberts describes him as "an outstanding officer."

State Criminal Justice Academy Director Hubert Harrell said political interference in police matters happens a great deal in small towns throughout the state. In a cursory review of Price's file last week, Harrell noticed a curious lack of documentation to support the allegations against him.

"I am getting a picture here of someone who worked for a lot of small departments and just wasn't playing the game," he said.

But not everyone is buying Price's tale of woe.

Blackville Mayor Jackie Holman canned Price six years ago for allegedly using excessive force in the Barnwell County community. Price was accused of slamming a handcuffed suspect against a car and onto pavement, state records show. Holman said his reasons for firing Price were sound and that he never has regretted that decision.

"He had anger-management issues," he said. "You are supposed to treat people with some sense of decency, but he seemed to have a problem doing that. He had a problem with being a professional."

Still, Holman wasn't surprised Price found more police work. "No matter what happens, he seems to always have a way of wiggling in somewhere."

A bad start

Price said he grew up in a law-enforcement family -- his father and uncle were police officers -- and it just seemed a natural fit for him to carry on that tradition. After two years as a state prison guard, he landed a job as a McCormick County sheriff's deputy in September 1998.

Price lasted about a year before he was fired for unsafe driving. Price said he got pulled over for speeding in Georgia while taking a short cut to a call in an unmarked police car with blue lights flashing. "Did I deserve that? Absolutely," he said.

Price moved on to the Wagener Police Department, lasting 13 months before he was fired again, this time for insubordination, state records show. Price said the mayor tried to manipulate an incident report on a confrontation stemming from a love triangle involving a town official and the relative of another town worker. Price said he was fired after he refused to go along with something he considered unethical.

Then-Mayor Steve Carver said he never asked Price to do anything untoward; the officer simply refused to write any report on the incident, despite orders to do so. Carver said the town had several problems with Price, but privacy policies prevent him from elaborating.

Price joined the Aiken County Sheriff's Office in September 2000, but he was fired just six months later after he was charged with criminal domestic violence, state records show. Price, who denies he did anything wrong, completed a pre-trial program that wiped the charge from his record, allowing him to ditch a truck-driving job and return to law enforcement in August 2003.

Brutality complaints

After a five-month stint with Burnettown police, Price moved to the Blackville Police Department for a job with better pay and better benefits, he said. He stayed there about two years before the mayor fired him, citing repeated excessive-force complaints. Price insists the mayor didn't like him and looked for an excuse to get rid of him.

Blackville Police Chief John Holston wrote to the state Criminal Justice Academy to protest the firing, indicating that the mayor "did not approve of Officer Price's zero tolerance approach to law enforcement." Holston said he found no evidence to support claims of excessive force by Price.

"The only work habit that has ever been mention (sic) concerning Officer Price was his aggressive style of policing which includes a fair but consistent enforcement of the law," Holston stated.

Allendale police quickly hired Price, but then fired him four months later, in December 2006. Then-Police Chief Michael Brewton Jr. cited several complaints about Price using excessive force, including one episode in which he allegedly pointed his pistol at an unarmed driver during a traffic stop that resulted in no arrests. Brewton also noted several complaints about Price's unsafe driving habits and said Price had lied about his past, according to state records.

Price said he was terminated because his no-nonsense policing style rubbed town officials the wrong way. He drew heat after ticketing a town council member's son for drag racing and initiating an investigation into possible drug dealing by another council member's relatives, he said.

A couple of weeks after he was fired, the town's grievance committee decided that Price should have been allowed to resign and filed an amended document with the state indicating that he had left voluntarily. A new Allendale police chief took over in 2007 and hired Price back, telling the academy he found nothing in Price's file to back up Brewton's claims of misconduct.

"He was a very aggressive officer who made numerous drug arrests in an infested area and that seems to be where the complaints are coming from," then-Chief Ralph Putnam stated.

Brewton did not return phone calls from The Post and Courier seeking comment.

Bill O'Neill, who was academy director at the time, initially ruled Price ineligible to work in law enforcement based on the excessive-force complaints He reversed his stance after a September 2007 appeal and allowed Price to return to police work on a probationary basis, state records show.

Price lasted less than a month in Allendale this time around. State records show he left voluntarily, but Price maintains he was forced out by Town Administrator Dewayne Ennis and others. That formed the basis of a federal lawsuit he filed last year against the town, Ennis and others, seeking at least $5 million in damages. The suit is still pending, he said.

Ennis declined to comment on Price's claims, citing the pending legal actions.

A new start

Price was on a probationary status with the police academy when he was hired in Cottageville in May 2008. Roberts, who inherited Price from his predecessor, said the officer has been a good fit. Roberts said he has seen no evidence of the unruly officer others claim Price to be. "That is not who he is," he said.

Price said he still enjoys working in small communities, where he gets a chance to know people and form tight connections with officers. He hasn't faced any political blowback in Cottageville, he said, and for that he is thankful. He knows all too well how situations like that can end up, he said.

"If you make somebody mad, you are going to have to deal with it," he said. "And I am the poster child for that."

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or gsmith@postandcourier.com.

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What a bizarre story. A town that has to commit suicide to rid itself of a bad police department and do justice for the slain mayor. A town that is safer without it's own police?


There must be more towns like this all over the US, held hostage by their police but unable to do anything about it due to local politics.

Yeah like L.A. 20 years ago.


Problem with cop shops is they're run by cops from the ground up. Chief was once a rookie in blue. Prolly no real training in administration or anything. Definitely no training in how to interact with people in a socially acceptable manner. For as much power as these scum have over people we require a GED and 4 months of cop school and that's it. What kinda sense does that make? A Mickey Ds manager probably has a business admin degree while someone running around with a gun on their hip who can kill you or screw up your life we only make them have 4 months of post secondary training. What's wrong with this picture?


Cop shops are all entrenched in politics. Replace the chief dick and u still have institutionalized dickism. Doesn't change.

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