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Drone

Animal rights group SHARK said a remote-controlled aircraft like this one was shot down near Ehrhardt. It planned to use the drone to video live pigeon shoots at the privately owned Broxton Bridge Plantation.

An animal protection group protesting a live pigeon shoot at Broxton Bridge Plantation is calling for an investigation into the “tactics of intimidation” it claims were used against its members by two Colleton County deputies.

But Colleton County Sheriff George A. Malone says his officers were merely doing their jobs on Feb. 12.

SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK, protested beside U.S. Highway 601 outside Broxton Bridge during the shoot, calling the plantation’s treatment of the pigeons used in the shoot “cruel.”

The group used a remote-controlled aircraft, or drone, in an effort to videotape the shoot.

SHARK claimed in a news release Tuesday that the two deputies threatened its activists with arrest and shared their personal identification with the lawyer for Broxton Bridge.

“The two officers acted as hired security for a private business,” said Steve Hindi, president of SHARK.

Hindi said his organization also wants to know the status of the investigation into the shooting down of the drone during the protest.

“It is important to understand how dangerous an act this was,” Hindi said. “The individuals on the plantation were firing high-powered weapons in our direction and across a public road. By doing nothing, Sheriff George A. Malone has, by default, given police protection to this reckless and threatening behavior.”

In a letter to Malone dated March 5, Hindi asked about the status of the investigation into the downing of the drone.

“Is the investigation still ongoing? Have you questioned and/or detained any suspects? I would like to know what progress, if any, has occurred,” Hindi stated in the letter.

He also lodged complaints in the letter against Lt. Jerry Polk and Chief Deputy Ted Stanfield of the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office for using “tactics of intimidation” against the animal rights activists.

“On Feb. 10, Lt. Polk responded to a complaint from someone at the Broxton Bridge Plantation who was apparently unhappy about the presence of SHARK personnel despite the fact we were legally parked and acting in a peaceful and completely lawful manner. Regardless, Lt. Polk insisted on taking our identification as we stood on the side of the road. To my knowledge, South Carolina is not a state that requires people who are not driving or suspected of criminal activity to provide identification, so my colleagues and I initially refused to provide our IDs,” Hindi wrote.

“Lt. Polk then claimed it was required by state law, but couldn’t provide the statute when asked. We complied. Lt. Polk then crossed the road to the plantation gates and, in an entirely unethical move, our IDs were then presented in clear view of the attorney for the Broxton Bridge Plantation.”

Hindi claimed the deputy, after a lengthy conversation with the attorney for Broxton Bridge Plantation, returned to the activists and continued to try to get them to move by misstating parking statutes.

Hindi claimed Stanfield relayed “wrong information” about laws pertaining to parking beside public roads to Lt. Polk and another deputy.

“Making up and modifying laws as one goes along are not the actions of a professional officer,” Hindi stated in the news release.

Malone denies his office demonstrated any bias.

“The Sheriff’s Office was placed in the middle of an issue that is apparently passionate to both parties. We are not taking sides with either party except to enforce the statutes, ordinances and laws of Colleton County and the state of South Carolina and to promote public safety,” he said. “Both parties’ concerns were heard that day, and our deputies did not cite or enforce any laws they did not feel were violated during the initial incident.”

The sheriff added, “We have received criticism from both sides — one saying we should have made cases against Mr. Hindi and the other protesting our presence and safety concerns.”

Malone criticized the videos of the Feb. 12 incident that SHARK posted on its website.

“Editing videos by leaving out sections that indicate our concerns for safety and injecting written and verbal comments to sway viewers seems to be (Hindi’s) only way of promoting his cause. What he doesn’t understand is that the same people he is trying to use in law enforcement may agree or sympathize with his cause,” the sheriff said. “But by distorting reality, he is turning them away. One example of this is calling deputies names while they are trying to do their job, such as he did calling Lt. Polk a ‘rogue cop’ and insinuating that he is paid off just for doing his job.”

He said the Broxton Bridge incident “appeared to be a no-win situation for the Sheriff’s Office since both parties were not pleased.”

As for the investigation into who shot the animal rights group’s drone down, Malone said, “We advised the deputies on scene to make a report of the incident and to follow up on determining the person that shot the remote/radio-controlled aircraft. They did so, and the investigation is continuing but the person has not been identified at this time.”

He added, “This will probably not end further ridicule of the actions of our officers, but we will remain neutral to both parties despite any efforts to do otherwise by Mr. Hindi or anyone else. Again, our main concern is for public safety, enforcing county ordinances and state laws and keeping the peace.”

Broxton Bridge Plantation officials have refused to comment on the pigeon shoot or the incident.

Contact the writer: cbarker@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5525.

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