Groups demand investigation of police force, racial bias audit after release of video

Updated: May. 19, 2020 at 1:58 PM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Several groups say they want an investigation after the release of cell phone video they say shows North Charleston Police using “unnecessary use of force.”

The video shows a May 9 encounter between North Charleston Police officers and Joshua Lewis at the Country Inn Suites hotel. Community activists held a news conference outside the law office of Lewis’s attorney Tuesday morning to demand an investigation into the officers’ actions.

The Rev. Nelson Rivers, the vice president of the National Action Network, denounced North Charleston police officers’ actions in an encounter with Joshua Lewis that was recorded on a cell phone video.

“The video we saw showed us, at least what we could see, a chokehold being employed and a body slam of a young man who was not arrested,” Rivers said.

The Religious Affairs Department of The National Action Network, Tri-County NAN Chapter, Southeastern SC NAN Chapter, other local civil rights organization and the Charleston Area Justice Ministry called the news conference in response to recently released video of what they say appears to be the unnecessary use of force by the North Charleston police officers. They say the video shows officers slamming Joshua Lewis against a wall when they say he was already handcuffed and restrained.

Rivers wants the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to investigate the incidents involving Lewis. He also called on the City of North Charleston to conduct a racial bias audit of its police department.

According to an incident report, officers responded to a report of shots heard that led them to the hotel. The report states the hotel clerk claimed Lewis and others pried open the hotel's front door and ran into a room.

Police said they had to drag Lewis out of the room and handcuff him because they did not know whether he was armed.

Lewis's attorney, Jerod Frazier, said the incident report is not accurate.

“Being a former police officer there are ways to write a report when you know you don’t have all the blanks," Frazier said. "And you know you need to cover yourself up. That report and the vagueness of that smacks of that.”

Police did not arrest Lewis for the incident at the hotel.

Lewis was given a traffic ticket for a broken tail light two days earlier, his attorney said.

Lewis’s grandfather, former Charleston City Councilman James Lewis, says it’s a sad day for him.

“They’re not hired to beat citizens like dogs, pick them up off the floor and thrown into the wall,” he said.

Both Rivers and Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott referred to the April 4, 2015, Walter Scott shooting, in which a driver was shot to death after a traffic stop by a North Charleston Police officer. The officer, Michael Slager, was eventually fired, charged and sentenced after cell phone footage of the incident came to light.

Without a racial bias audit, “there will be another Walter Scott,” Dot Scott said.

North Charleston Police say they are reviewing the cell phone video and will release a statement later.

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