THE ISSUE: Officer-involved shooting fatalities; OUR OPINION: Lack of info from outset makes ‘lengthy’ probe process hard to endure
The headline on Tuesday, May 3, 2011, read: “Eutawville residents: ‘It’s a shock. They shot him.’
The story followed a Monday, May 2, incident that left so many questions.
T&D Correspondent Martha Rose Brown wrote: “Residents of the close-knit eastern Orangeburg County town of Eutawville gathered Monday near the scene of a midmorning shooting that stunned the community. The crowd both mourned Bernard Bailey, who reportedly died in an officer-involved shooting, and sought answers.”
Finding those answers has been priority for the family of 54-year-old Bailey and a lot of people in Eutawville. A year-and-a-half later, they have not been forthcoming despite investigations on the state and federal levels.
Theories and stories abound, but what really happened and why remains a mystery.
Bailey went to Eutawville Town Hall on that fateful Monday, reportedly to address a traffic ticket issued to his daughter by then-Eutawville Police Chief Richard “Rick” Combs. A confrontation of some kind ensued at town hall and spilled over to the outside of the building, where Bailey died of multiple gunshot wounds, including two shots to his chest and one to his shoulder.
While it seems unbelievable there is even lack of official confirmation regarding who fired the shots, family members and others in Eutawville say Bailey was shot by Combs, who was placed on paid administrative leave then and is no longer the Eutawville chief. He has not been charged in the case.
Recently, Bailey’s relatives and members of the clergy from the Eutawville area spoke out about the case at a community meeting. And on Tuesday, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed against the town, its police department and Combs.
Bailey’s sister, Joann Lawton, said at the meeting: “We really didn’t know where to turn to.”
Neither do town of Eutawville officials.
Though it is unclear when the civil lawsuit will be heard, at least it represents some movement in the case about which the State Law Enforcement Division and the U.S. Justice Department, which got the case from the FBI, will provide no comment. Not discussing an investigation has become customary for the agencies, but the lack of what should have been routine public information via incident reports and official public statements is striking.
All that is being said from officialdom is the review process is “lengthy.”
Equally as puzzling is a case on the other side of The T&D Region.
Fifty-year-old Norway resident Warren Robinson died from a gunshot wound following a police chase on Aug. 4, 2011, that ended in Orangeburg County near Good Hope Road off S.C. Highway 70.
Again, there is a marked lack of official information in the form of reports and statements, but no one has disputed that the incident began with a car chase involving the Denmark Public Safety Department and the Bamberg County Sheriff’s Department.
While a Bamberg County officer is no longer the subject of a federal investigation in the case, 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe has said former Denmark Public Safety Officer Horace Brunson’s alleged role in the shooting remains under scrutiny.
The probe is in the hands of the South Carolina U.S. Attorney’s Office, Pascoe said in an August 2012 T&D report.
Robinson’s widow, Kathy, said in the same August report, “In my heart, I think that was wrong how he died. ... I don’t know what’s going on or what’s holding them up.”
As with the family in the Eutawville case, she said, “They ain’t telling me nothing.”
State Sen. John Matthews was at the Eutawville meeting. His words about the Bailey case are worth repeating for all regarding it and the shooting death of Robinson: “Doing nothing is not an option. I think this community has grievously been taken advantage of.”