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86-year-old man reaches $900,000 settlement with Kingstree, Georgia police

An 86-year-old black man injured after being jolted by a white officer’s Taser will get a $900,000 payout — one of the most significant for a stun gun case in South Carolina history — as video emerged Friday of the Kingstree encounter that raises further questions about police training on the use of force.

Albert Chatfield, who has dementia, put his hands in the air after a brief car chase Oct. 16 in the small Williamsburg County community, but he jogged backward from the officers trying to arrest him.

An officer said in a report that Chatfield was shocked with the stun gun to stop him from getting hit by passing traffic. But the only car in the video footage is backing slowly away from the action.

A federal court last year also declared unconstitutional any Taser use against someone who doesn’t present a danger to another person. Chatfield’s lawyer, state Rep. Justin Bamberg, said that an elderly man in a bout of confusion posed no threat and that the officers’ justification of the takedown contradicted the video.

Chatfield fell, and his head hit the pavement.

That a supervisor had ordered the officer to use the Taser shows a pervasive lack of training on the regulations, Bamberg said Friday.

“This is a learning opportunity,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate that such a learning session has to come at the expense of an 86-year-old grandfather. But it’s an opportunity to look at Taser training and try to stop it from happening from somebody else.”

The State Law Enforcement Division opened an investigation into the ordeal at the Kingstree police chief’s request, but no criminal charges were expected to come of it, a decision that Chatfield’s family did not oppose.

The settlement, announced Friday but reached a week earlier, was negotiated with Kingstree’s insurer at the Municipal Association of South Carolina.

Bamberg has represented families in other high-profile cases involving police, including the 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott by a North Charleston officer that was captured on cellphone video.

Chatfield’s agreement, though, amounted to one of the “quickest and most considerable” settlements ever in a South Carolina police Taser case in which no lawsuit had been filed, Bamberg said.

The video, which the lawyer distributed publicly, brought further scrutiny to how the police justified their Taser user against Chatfield. The authorities had denied The Post and Courier’s open-records request for the information.

Early one foggy morning last month, someone told police that the retired entrepreneur was tailgating other cars in his Ford SUV. He drove away from the responding Kingstree officers and ran red lights.

He soon stopped at an intersection and got out, raising both his arms into the air.

Police said he “took up a fighting stance” against Officer Stephen Sweikata, who is white, and Lt. Carl Scott, a black supervisor.

The video showed Sweikata pulling down Chatfield’s arms in a bid to handcuff the motorist, but Chatfield pulled away and moved swiftly backwards. He walked out of his own shoes.

What he said to the officers isn’t clear from the video, Bamberg said.

“Stop!” they told him.

“No,” he said, “you (gotta or gonna) shoot me.”

A car that had been stopped at the intersection slowly backed away. No other traffic went by.

“Tase me,” he said. “Tase me.”

At one point, he appeared to slap at Scott’s arms as the lieutenant tried to corral him.

“Tase him,” Scott told Sweikata. “Tase him.”

A loud thud is heard as the Taser is fired. Chatfield quickly fell to the ground, where he lay still.

The confrontation ended less than 45 minutes after it began.

Sweikata said in a report that he had fired his Taser to prevent Chatfield from being struck by passing cars.

Later in the video clip, as Chatfield breathes heavily and cries out in pain, an officer is heard explaining that the motorist was brought down with the device “rather than fight him in the street.”

“He denied verbal commands several times,” the officer said. “He’s fighting. We’ve got traffic coming up the street. … So we had to tase him to get him from being further hurt.”

Chatfield stayed in intensive care for weeks and had bleeding on his brain. After waking from a medically induced coma, family members said he couldn’t talk well. He just cried.

He was transferred Thursday from the hospital to a long-term care facility.

“He’s better than he had been, but he still has a long way to go,” his daughter, Jodi Mack of North Carolina, said Friday at a news conference. “I don’t have the same person I had a month ago.”

Chatfield still doesn’t talk about his experience that day, Bamberg said, but he hopes that the Kingstree police will become more active with the community’s younger and older folks alike.

The settlement, Bamberg said, will also ensure that Chatfield has the best medical care for the rest of his life.

“Not everyone who doesn’t listen to a directive from law enforcement has an intent to hurt somebody,” Bamberg said. “You have to talk to these folks. You can’t just tase people to gain compliance. That’s a change we need to see.”

SOURCE: POST and COURIER