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.
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.”
Las Vegas Metro police shot and killed a 22-year-old man early Friday morning after he reached for a weapon and defied commands repeatedly, police said.
Officers Francisco Rivera, 28, and Padilla Mills, 23, were involved in the shooting in the 200 block of Madge Lane, near Charleston Boulevard and Sloan Lane.
Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Monday said officers were on their way to another call when they spotted Junior David Lopez driving recklessly with two women in a blue Chrysler 300.
“Hey, what are you doing? Stay in the car man,” one of the officers yelled. “Stay in the ****ing car! Don’t move! Do not ****ing move!”
When officers stopped the vehicle, Lopez got out of the vehicle with a Smith and Wesson Bodyguard .380 firearm in his hand then tossed it on the ground, police said.
Zimmerman said Lopez defied officers’ commands to put his hands up and step away from the weapon. Instead Lopez grabbed the firearm and raised it, he said.
“Hey, get away from the gun!” officers yelled. “Do not move! Don’t reach for the gun, man. Do not reach the gun.”
Officers believe the body camera footage shows Lopez twice saying the words “shoot me.”
“I don’t know what was going through his head, but he was given ample opportunity to be taken into custody and he wasn’t,” Zimmerman said.
Officers Rivera and Mills both fired their weapons. Lopez fell to the ground and rolled over. Police say he reached for the guns once more. Officer Mills fired one more round, striking Lopez.
“We’re going to need medical for the subject,” one of the officers said, over his radio. “He’s reaching. Don’t reach for it! … His 4-13 is about one foot from his left hand. Don’t!”
Lopez was taken to Sunrise Hospital where he later died at 5:15 a.m.
The two women in the car were not injured. One was Lopez’ girlfriend and the owner of the vehicle. The other was a friend.
Both women on Monday night.
“I remember when we got pulled over they told us to get the **** out of the car, for him to get the **** out of the car. Why don’t I hear that in the video?” said Lopez’s girlfriend, Amber. “He was the best thing in my life… He said, ‘Don’t shoot me. Don’t shoot me. Don’t shoot me.’ You can’t hear the don’t, but you can hear him. ‘Don’t shoot me. Don’t shoot me.'”
Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman said 22-year-old Junior Lopez told officers to shoot him, twice.
“I don’t know what was going through his head but he was given ample opportunity to be taken into custody and he wasn’t.”
Lopez’s girlfriend said he was yelling, “Don’t shoot me!”
Lopez’s girlfriend also says officers told him to get out of the car… before they yelled at him to get back in the car. She argues that the first portion was conveniently cut out of the video released today.
“Everything they said is not true,” said Jorge Luis Martinez, Lopez’s father. “The video is not complete. ”
Lopez had one prior charge for false statement to a police officer in North Las Vegas in 2016
Both officers have been employed with Metro since May 2016. They are both assigned to the Community Policing Division Northeast Area Command. They were both placed on routine paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
How an anti-illegal immigration YouTuber turned a $280 fine into a federal criminal trial
It began as a $280 citation for using a video camera in a courthouse.
But to Gary Gileno, at stake was much more than the couple hundred bucks he was told to pay.
An attorney for the anti-illegal immigration activist and prolific YouTuber told a judge Friday that the four-hour trial over the fine was really about preventing government abuse of power, protecting the rights of journalists and ensuring that citizens can hold public officials accountable.
“If he is convicted … it’ll chill speech, it’ll chill journalism, it’ll say the federal government has a superpower to do whatever it wants,” attorney William Becker said. “This is unprecedented. This is what we expect to see in a police state.”
A federal prosecutor dismissed the rhetoric, arguing the Class C misdemeanor charge was simply about Gileno’s refusal to follow a security officer’s orders.
The unusual legal battle came after Gileno, 32, tried to bring a video camera into a meeting of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission last year. California law specifically allows the public to use recording devices at such meetings, but the commission’s meeting in August was held at a federal appellate court building where filming is prohibited.
Someone just detained at federal courthouse, where public Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission meeting takin place, 4 trying 2 take pic
The commission, a civilian panel set up to monitor the Sheriff’s Department and listen to public concerns about the agency, had been gathering in different locations around the county since it began meeting in January 2017. This was the first time commissioners had met at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals building in Pasadena.
As Gileno entered the courthouse, deputy U.S. marshals told him he had to leave his camera in his car. Gileno insisted he had a right to record the meeting under the First Amendment and the state’s open meetings law, known as the Brown Act, and began filming the officers.
After Gileno was cited, Robert C. Bonner, a former federal judge who chairs the commission, told The Times he wasn’t aware of certain provisions of the state’s open meetings law and relied on the county’s lawyers for legal advice.
Rather than pay the fine, Gileno opted to take his case to trial, facing a penalty of up to a $10,000 fine and 30 days in jail if found guilty.
Gileno, who began his YouTube career after showing up at his local council meeting in West Covina, said he has made a living off of his channel in recent years. His copious videos — 3,237 and counting — focus primarily on denouncing illegal immigration and promoting supporters of President Trump. His criminal case may have been a boon for his channel — a recent screed on his own prosecution was viewed more than 10,000 times.
On Friday, two court security officers who clashed with Gileno took the stand and testified that there were signs clearly posted saying photography wasn’t allowed in the courthouse. They said Gileno grew belligerent and disruptive, turning on his camera after being warned several times that it was not allowed.
Testifying in his own defense, Gileno said he was a freelance citizen journalist who has attended and filmed local government meetings and legislative town halls for about five years.
“I believe in the United States of America, you should be able to keep tabs on the government,” he said.
In more than 250 other public meetings he attended, he said, he never had an issue with bringing in his video camera. He said the security officer all of a sudden “exploded” at him, so he turned on his camera “to document what I felt was a violation of my rights at the time.”
Assistant U.S. Atty. Benedetto Lee Balding said Gileno’s disruption of security officers working at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was no small matter. It was Gileno who escalated the encounter by refusing to go along with the officers’ orders, he said.
“He decided unilaterally he didn’t have to follow the rules,” the prosecutor said.
Becker, who primarily represents conservatives and Christians in free-speech cases, worked for free on Gileno’s case. He argued that the federal courthouse essentially became a “limited public forum” when it hosted the commission meeting, which Gileno should have been allowed to film under the state law.
Magistrate Judge Jean P. Rosenbluth said she could understand why Gileno was angry and frustrated given his past experience filming the meetings, but she said that didn’t excuse his failure to follow orders. Security at the appellate courthouse, where justices could be filmed without their knowledge, was a serious concern, the judge said.
“Even if these seem arbitrary or don’t make any sense to Mr. Gileno or anybody else, clearly they serve this very important purpose,” Rosenbluth said, finding Gileno guilty.
Acknowledging that a “misunderstanding” had led to the kerfuffle, the prosecutor recommended a sentence of no fine, which would leave Gileno having to pay just $35 in court fees. Rosenbluth said she felt the need for “some consequences” and ordered Gileno to pay a $50 fine, bringing his total penalty to $85 with the fees.
Gileno said he was “outraged” and “astounded.” After the verdict, he turned to nine supporters in the audience, including a man in a red “Make California Great Again” hat, and exclaimed, “I was never read my rights!”
His attorney said they would seriously consider an appeal and possibly a civil lawsuit against the government.
“What the judge just said is if a city council can move to a federal building, they can keep the meeting secret,” Gileno said. “That’s grossly illegal.”