Tourist jailed for 9 hours after breaking open container law

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A tourist from Coral Gables, Fla., was arrested Wednesday for walking along Rutledge Avenue in downtown Charleston with an open beer.

He purchased the alcoholic drink after an eventful day that involved an accident with a carriage horse.

"Two thousand pounds of horse coming at us; my wife flipped over, scraped her legs, banged her head on the wall," said Ted Zellman. So, the pair decided to try their luck at one of Charleston's many finer restaurants.

Zellman, 50, walked out of a store at the corner of Rutledge Avenue and Spring Street carrying a bottle inside of a brown paper bag.Charleston police officers observed Zellman open the bottle and drink out of it several times as he walked down Rutledge Avenue.

"It was a long day I saw the corner store I thought why don't I just have a beer, " said Zellman.

The officers approached Zellman to investigate. He then pulled a 3/4 full bottle of Red Stripe beer out of the bag. Officers arrested Zellman for having an open container.  He was transported to Charleston County Detention Center.

Zellman says he made it halfway back down the block to where his wife was waiting, when he took a sip of the beer, disguised in a paper bag, and that's when police were on the scene.

"The next thing you know it was like I was in a movie, cop car came in, on an angle, cut me off, they leapt off like they were catching a drug deal," said Zellman. "I just simply said, 'Oh shit!,' like, 'Oh my God!,' like, 'I cant believe it, is this me?'"

Zellman was handcuffed, put in the back of a squad car and taken into custody. Zellman said he was in complete surprise that four police cruisers and six police officers were involved in his arrest. Zellman's wife thought he had disappeared while he was in jail.

"As were driving away, my only concern is you've got to tell my wife. I have the keys to the b&b. She has no money. I walked out for five minutes. She doesn't know where I am," said Zellman.

Meanwhile, Zellman's wife was starting to panic, but she had no idea what was unfolding less than a block away. "I've been married to him for 17 years. This isn't like him, something was wrong," she said.

Forty-five minutes later, an officer showed up and told her what had happened.

"That means when I was sitting here when the four cop cars that pulled up in the next block were actually arresting my husband,"  she said.

Zellman spent nine hours in jail. "I had a lot of time to think I thought about what I did. I was very embarrassed," said Zellman.

According to South Carolina state law, the penalty for "having an open container of liquor anywhere except in a private residence, hotel or motel room, licensed minibottle establishment, the luggage compartment of a vehicle or a legally constituted private gathering carries a fine of up to $100 or imprisonment for up to 30 days."

He admits he was wrong to drink on the street but says the main issue is the severity of the penalty. "I think the suitable penalty for that sort of thing would be a scolding, a reprimand, a fine, a summons," said Zellman. "The punishment did not fit the crime."

The ticket issued Zellman cost him $262.

The Charleston Police Department says the arresting officer is the neighborhood officer for that area and he treats tourists and locals the same way. Looking back at the events that happened, officials were asked if they thought taking Zellman to jail was over the top. They said maybe, but it's up to the officer's discretion and how he interprets the situation as it's unfolding.

The Zellmans is now on their way out of Charleston police jurisdiction and into North Carolina.

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