A state judge is now considering whether or not the former police chief of a small Orangeburg County town can argue state law protects him from prosecution after shooting another man outside town hall three years ago.
The Orangeburg Times & Democrat reports attorneys for former Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs argue he is immune from prosecution under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” defense. Combs shot and killed 54-year-old Bernard Bailey in the Eutawville Town Hall parking lot in May 2011. The police chief was serving a misdemeanor warrant against the retired security guard at the time.
Combs does not dispute that he shot Bailey, but he said he feared for his life because Bailey was trying to drive away while the officer was in the car door. The case stirred racial tensions in the small town that borders Lake Marion, as Combs is white and Bailey was black.
According to prosecutors, Bailey and Combs had gotten into an argument over a broken taillight traffic ticket Combs had written for Bailey’s daughter. Following the confrontation, Combs got a warrant on obstruction charges against Bailey. Prosecutors said Bailey went to the police office six weeks later and Combs tried to arrest him on the obstruction charge. A witness said Bailey angrily returned to his truck and tried to drive off, but Combs followed and reached to pull the keys from the ignition. According to the newspaper, Combs told the court he was “trapped” in the steering wheel and fired at least two shots as Bailey backed up the truck.
But First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe argued “Stand Your Ground” does not apply in this case, as the police chief was the aggressor against an unarmed Bailey and was not an citizen protecting himself or property from harm.
State and federal investigators did not bring any charges against the chief after the incident. However an Orangeburg County grand jury returned the misconduct indictment against Combs in August 2013.
Circuit Judge Ed Dickson will decide if Combs was justified in the shooting. If not, the trial will proceed with the chief’s admission that he fired the fatal shots used as evidence.
Eutawville is a town of slightly more than 300 people. It is roughly 50 miles northwest of Charleston and 30 miles east of Orangeburg.