NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The National Action Network said Monday it is confident a Charleston County Sheriff's investigation into a violent arrest will lead to justice.
The group held a news conference Monday afternoon outside the sheriff's office after deputies announced an internal investigation into whether a deputy followed proper procedure when he arrested a man now facing drug charges.
Lamont Simmons, 27, was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine, possession with intent to distribute cocaine base and resisting arrest, according to Charleston County Sheriff's Capt. Roger Antonio.
The investigation stems from an altercation that happened at a North Charleston gas station in the 8500 block of Rivers Avenue on Jan. 28, Antonio said.
"The Charleston County Sheriff's Office reviews all use of force incidents and, as a result of the review, has immediately opened an internal investigation to determine if the deputy followed proper procedure," Antonio said.
The National Action Network was alerted to the video by Charleston County Chief Deputy Eric Watson, who the group's South Carolina president, Elder James Johnson, said was trying to be transparent about the incident.
"We understand that this officer used an illegal, an illegal chokehold on this man," Johnson said at the news conference. Johnson said his first thought after seeing video of the incident was of Eric Gardner, the man who died after New York City Police put him in a chokehold while trying to arrest him in 2014.
The group met with deputies, calling the meeting "fruitful" and said they are confident the sheriff's office will make the right decision when the investigation is over.
"We feel that the justice will be served within the department," the Rev. Charles Glover, Sr. said. "We feel that this is something that is not going to be pushed aside. The department is going to handle the situation internally because we know Internal Affairs is doing an investigation of it."
"We want the community to remain calm," Johnson said, adding he has seen many negative comments about law enforcement since a video of the arrest was posted.
Charleston Deputy Joseph Stokes became involved in a struggle with Simmons after Stokes noticed Simmons had what appeared to be illegal drugs in the form of a powdery substance in a clear plastic baggy in the front left pocket of his hooded sweatshirt, an incident report states.
A video of a portion of the arrest was recorded by a bystander and then provided to Simmons' family, who then posted it on Facebook:
Stokes was on his way to work and was not equipped with his duty belt, which consists of handcuffs, a stun gun and other equipment, he said. He attempted to subdue Simmons until additional officers could arrive, according to a release from the sheriff's office.
The deputy asked Simmons to step off to the side so he could ask Simmons about the contents but said Simmons started to pull away and began to actively resist the attempt to detain him, the incident report states.
Deputies say Simmons pushed into Stokes with enough force to dislodge the deputy's body-worn camera, and during the struggle, Simmons threw the deputy against the shelves along the front wall of the business.
Simmons continued to ignore "loud verbal commands to stop resisting and to stop reaching into his pockets," the report states. Store surveillance footage audio contains repeated commands from Stokes to Simmons to "stop" and "relax."
During the struggle, Simmons reached into his pockets and was able to gain control over the bag, open it and shake the contents into the air, the report states.
Stokes said he attempted to conduct a shoulder pin restraint which was modified because of Simmons' positioning and was able to gain control of Simmons.
At some point during the struggle, a concerned citizen assisted Stokes in controlling Simmons, the report states.
North Charleston Police arrived and took Simmons into custody, the report states. Police collected approximately one gram of a white crystal-like substance, which field-tested presumptive for cocaine, while Stokes collected approximately one gram of a white powder-like substance that also field-tested presumptive for cocaine, the report states.
Simmons was transported by ambulance to Trident Medical Center to be evaluated and later transported to the Al Cannon Detention Center, deputies say.
Stokes was also transported to a hospital for evaluation after possible exposure to the drugs during the struggle, Antonio said.
Simmons' mother, Amy German, spoke at Monday's news conference and said the family believes the deputy used too much force.
"Like they said, the videos are very disturbing. It's hurtful," Amy German said. "You see this go on with Walter Scott, Eric Garner, all those other ones. I never thought it would hit home with my son."
The group did not deny that Simmons had drugs on his person, saying their issue is with how the deputy handled the situation.
"We don't condone what he [Simmons] does, what he was actually arrested for," Johnson said. "But there is a way to arrest anybody, and that type of chokehold technically could have led to this young man's death. We don't want this to happen to anybody anymore and that's why we are speaking out against this."
Johnson said he was told at Monday's meeting that Stokes has been placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of the investigation.