CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - No charges will be filed against Charleston police officer Paul Kelly in connection with an arrest of a suspect for DUI in August 2018 who died four days later.
Kelly was previously suspended with pay in connection with the investigation back in February, which 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 alleged misconduct on the part of the police department.
An internal investigation was also conducted by the Charleston police department and it found that Kelly violated department policy. He has been demoted and reassigned to a non-sworn position within the department.
“I can tell you as a police chief, as a police officer in the City of Charleston there’s no question that we could have done better in this case and we will and we already made the necessary changes," Reynolds said Wednesday.
Documents show Kelly 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 South Carolina Law Enforcement Division report released Wednesday states Rhodes left the ambulance without assistance and took field sobriety tests which he failed.
Charleston police chief Luther 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.
“We have to get it right and in this case there were several things we didn’t get right," Reynolds said Wednesday.
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.
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.
“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 to 180 days of retention. The SLED report released Wednesday confirmed there is no dash camera or body warn footage of the events that transpired at the accident site. Any footage that may have existed regarding this scene was tagged as an “Accidental” recording and was deleted in accordance with CPD policy.
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.
Kelly provided no statement and refused to be interviewed for the investigation.