CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A Charleston Police officer has been suspended with pay in connection with the arrest of man suspected of DUI-related crash in August who died four days after he was arrested.
Officer Paul Kelly’s suspension was announced Monday by Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds. The news came hours after the family of Nathaniel Rhodes and their attorneys held a news conference to question the police department’s handling of Rhodes’ arrest. The family alleges misconduct on the part of the police department.
Reynolds said his department had no idea that Kelly signed an EMS form stating that Rhodes did not wish to go to the hospital. Reynolds said the form is a function of Charleston County Emergency Medical Services, not his department.
The family of the 58-year-old man said said he was in a crash on the Crosstown near Coming Street on Aug. 12, 2018.
The incident report states Rhodes was put on a stretcher and into an ambulance to be taken to the hospital for medical treatment.
According to the incident report, the officer spoke with Rhodes inside the ambulance, and then found a glass bottle with a broken seal inside the van which was filled with wine. Rhodes told the officer he had been drinking it earlier in the afternoon.
The report states that Rhodes said he had no injuries that would stop him from completing a field sobriety test and EMS workers said there was no reason Rhodes had to be on the stretcher. He was then given the field sobriety test, put in handcuffs and taken to Charleston police headquarters on Lockwood Drive, according to the incident report.
Documents show a Charleston police officer then signed the “refusal to transport” form on Rhodes’ behalf. The family alleges the form was signed for Rhodes so that the officer could give him the field sobriety test. The officer then ordered Rhodes to be taken off the stretcher, removed from the ambulance and taken to the the police station instead of the hospital, according to lawyers for the family.
While at the police station, Rhodes complained he was in pain. According to the incident report, officers were bringing Rhodes inside the station when he went limp and was lowered to the floor of the intake area. He also complained of heat and discomfort in handcuffs, the report stated.
Once EMS told Rhodes he would be uncuffed in a chair in an air-conditioned room, he was able to walk again, the report stated. When the officer went to do paperwork, he wrote in the report that he was told Rhodes had an apparent seizure and then taken to the hospital.
An MUSC autopsy report shows his cause of death was blunt force trauma to the abdomen. It also states he had liver lacerations and contusions on his lungs. The incident report also stated he had broken ribs.
The family says it was too late by the time Rhodes was taken to the hospital where doctors tried surgery and he died four days later.
“Believing that this matter should be independently investigated to ensure objectivity, city of Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds immediately referred the investigation to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division,” a statement by Charleston police released on Friday stated.
“The loss of a life is always tragic and must be taken very seriously," Reynolds said. “I have requested that SLED conduct a thorough investigation into this matter.”
Reynolds said two of the four body camera videos of the incident were automatically deleted 30 days later because the department policy is for 30 days of retention. He said that policy will change.
Reynolds also said one of two dash cams were not working the night of the accident due to software problems. He says very few cars have cameras and he has asked city council to approve money to have the cameras in more police cars.
Charleston County Council Chariman, Elliott Summey released this statement this morning:
"It has been brought to my attention after conversations with City of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and County staff last week that irregularities may have occurred regarding the handling of a traffic accident on August 12, 2018, in the City of Charleston. It is my understanding that Charleston County EMS responded to a traffic accident and placed the patient in the County’s ambulance to assess and treat his condition. A City of Charleston police officer arrived on the scene and took custody of the patient upon suspicion of DUI and placed him under arrest.
Charleston County EMS left the scene and was later re-dispatched to the City of Charleston’s law enforcement center at Lockwood Blvd, because the patient sustained additional injuries from a fall while in the City of Charleston’s custody.
Charleston County EMS transported the patient to MUSC, where he was admitted in stable condition. The patient died several days later. Due to these unusual circumstances and after consultation with Mayor Tecklenburg, I believe an investigation is warranted by the Sheriff’s Office and SLED into these matters. I have sent the request to Sheriff Al Cannon as this is a matter of great importance to the citizens of Charleston County."