A former South Carolina police chief has dodged prison time in the 2011 shooting death of an unarmed Black man, receiving just one year of home detention, according to NPR.
Former Eutawville, S.C. police chief Richard Combs, 38, shot and killed 54-year-old Bernard Bailey as he left the Eutawville Police Department in May 2011.
After two mistrials in different areas of the state, Combs pled guilty to misconduct in office on Tuesday. He received a 10-year suspended sentence, five years’ probation, and one year of home detention with a GPS monitor.
The shooting happened on May 2, 2011 when Bailey, a former prison security guard, went to the courthouse to request a change of date in his daughter’s hearing for a broken traffic light two months prior, for which Combs had given her a ticket.
Combs, believing his authority was being disrespected, was allegedly upset when Bailey — who was on the scene when his daughter was given the ticket to provide the officer with her insurance papers — arrived at the courthouse.
Without notice, Combs issued Bailey a warrant for his arrest because of their previous encounter. Witnesses say Bailey was visibly confused and angry, so he left the courthouse with Combs trailing behind him.
As Bailey tried to start his car, Combs opened the door and attempted to stop him. A physical altercation ensued and Bailey was shot three times in the chest.
Combs’ case was brought to trial twice for murder and voluntary manslaughter, but the charges were later reduced to misconduct.
While Combs is White and Bailey was Black, prosecutors focused on the officer’s “poor judgement” during the shooting, rather than race. The State writes:
“…Combs’ attorneys said because Bailey was resisting arrest, he escalated the confrontation. During the traffic stop, Bailey and Combs argued but were far from coming to blows, and prosecutors contended that Bailey was doing what all fathers would do if they could – be present during a traffic stop involving their daughter. And other police on the scene testified that Bailey’s conduct did not amount to interference with an officer.”
The family was awarded $400,000 from Eutawville, a town of just over 300 people, in a wrongful death lawsuit.
The current plight of unarmed Black men killed by police officers inspired the indictment for Combs. He was first charged in December 2014, after the officers involved in the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner were not indicted.