Police: N. Charleston officer fired for 'unnecessary or excessive use of force' in arrest

VIDEO: Police: N. Charleston officer fired for 'unnecessary or excessive use of force' in arrest
James Terry III from a booking photo dated Nov. 15, 2016. (Source: CCSO)
James Terry III from a booking photo dated Nov. 15, 2016. (Source: CCSO)

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The North Charleston Police Department has fired an officer for "unnecessary or excessive use of force" after an internal investigation of a November arrest.

"As a part of the department's Internal Review process, the actions of an assisting officer during the arrest of Mr. James Terry, III was reported to the Office of Professional Standards," North Charleston Police spokesman Spencer Pryor said in a statement Friday afternoon. "Officer Leroy Hair was placed on administrative duty and an investigation by the Office of Professional Standards was conducted.  Mr. Hair's employment with the North Charleston Police Department was terminated on December 1, 2016, for 'Unnecessary or excessive use of force.'"

Hair was hired on May 12, 2014, Pryor said.

The announcement came hours after the National Action Network and other groups called for the release of dash cam video of Terry's arrest.

Police had said Terry was stopped for speeding and that he was charged with disorderly conduct and assault because he reportedly spit on them.

Elder James Johnson, the state coordinator for NAN, said a mugshot of Terry appeared to show injuries after his arrest and the group wants to see whether police video shows how such injuries occurred.

Johnson said the arrest took place on Nov. 6, but jail records indicate Terry was booked on Nov. 15 on charges of driving under suspension, reckless driving, disorderly conduct and assault on a police officer. Terry bonded out on those charges, jail records state.

According to an incident report, police observed Terry's vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed near Cosgrove and Rivers at approximately 10:53 p.m. on Nov. 15. Radar confirmed the vehicle's speed to be 76 mph in a 35 mph zone, police say. When police initiated a traffic stop, a female passenger exited the vehicle but returned when police ordered her to do so, the report states.

The driver, later identified as Terry, exited the vehicle and attempted to enter a convenience store with police ordering him to get down on the ground, the report states. Terry then started walking in the opposite direction towards Rivers Avenue as the officer called for backup, the report states.

Police say the officer then took Terry to the ground and attempted to detain him, at which point Terry became combative. The report states Terry began pulling his arms away and kicking at the officer, also screaming and shouting obscenities. After backup units arrived and assisted in getting Terry into custody, police say he tried to grab an officer's duty belt while he was handcuffed. At that point, police say they used leg shackles on him and place him in the rear of a patrol vehicle. Police say while in the rear of the vehicle, Terry began trying to kick the door and back window of the patrol vehicle and continued to kick the patrol vehicle, shout obscenities and spit on an officer through the cage from the rear of the car.

One officer said Terry kicked and grabbed clothing, grabbed an officer's arm, grabbed officers by their equipment on utility belts. One of the officers said he had to strike Terry several times to the outside of his upper right arm when Terry grabbed his radio mic cord and began pulling on it.

The incident was captured on officers' body-worn cameras and by one of the patrol vehicles, the report states.

Another officer at the scene interviewed the female passenger who claimed Terry was under the influence of something but did not know what, the report states. She told police she attempted to exit the vehicle because she was afraid of him, the report states.

Civil rights groups demanded release of dash cam video before news of officer's firing came

Johnson said he had reached out multiple times to see the video but claims Police Chief Eddie Driggers has not made time to meet with him.

"I feel that I'm being avoided by this police department in seeing this dash cam," Johnson said. "If Chief Driggers can't be transparency and his department being accountable, then he is not fit for that office. We want the dash cam of this incident of Mr. James Terry immediately released."

Johnson his office submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the North Charleston Police Department to see the footage.

"We shouldn't have to do that," Johnson said. "We do not want a Walter Scott happening in North Charleston again."

A widely-seen cell phone video of the April 4, 2015, shooting of Scott by a former North Charleston police officer led to the officer's firing and arrest on a charge of murder.

The news conference Friday came as jurors in the state trial against Slager were deliberating the case.

Officials say the NCPD is refusing to create an open dialogue but they hope to get the process of viewing the video underway.

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