N. Charleston Mayor Pro Tem says CCSO profiled, wrongfully detained him at a traffic stop
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - North Charleston Mayor Pro Tem Jerome Heyward says he was wrongfully detained at a traffic stop by a Charleston County deputy. He says the situation escalated unnecessarily and he was racially profiled.
On Sunday July 24th, Deputy Leonard Vella pulled Heyward over for failing to signal when he changed lanes. He was driving a rental car. After giving Deputy Leonard Vella his license and registration, the deputy asked Heyward to show proof of a rental car agreement. Heyward couldn’t produce it and that’s when he said things escalated.
In the bodycam video, Vella can be heard saying “I am ordering you to shut off the car and step out now. I will forcibly exit you from the car…Yes sir I will.”
Deputy Vella then calls for back-up and later calls for a K-9 unit, which wasn’t available to come.
“The whole thing, the whole deal, was clearly one thing, profiling at its best. I never thought a traffic stop would escalate to a canine unit being dispatched and an officer talking about extracting me from the car,” Heyward says.
Lowcountry lawyer Stephen Futeral has been practicing in Mount Pleasant for 30 years. He says not having a rental car agreement is not a valid reason to detain someone under South Carolina law.
“There is absolutely no reason that I can find under South Carolina Law where law enforcement would be somehow be justified…there’s no criminal law on the books that requires you to have that agreement or even produce it to law enforcement,” Futeral says.
Even further, Futeral explains that a rental agreement wouldn’t have anything to do with a criminal law about who is allowed to drive the car. The rental agreement is a civil matter between the company and the person booking the car.
“Asking or demanding to see a rental agreement – that’s not a law enforcement matter. Even if they were to get their hands on the rental agreement and see that someone else is driving the vehicle that wasn’t listed on the rental agreement, that’s a civil matter,” Futeral says.
Heyward did file a racial discrimination complaint the day after the incident. The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office exonerated Deputy Vella on August 1st after an internal investigation. Heyward says he never told the deputy about the public office he holds as Mayor Pro Tem of North Charleston during the interaction.
“I shouldn’t have to and I never mentioned that because that’s irrelevant. At that point, we’re a normal citizen and I should have been treated with dignity and respect. That’s something given to everybody,” Heyward says.
Heyward says he was detained, standing in the heat in front of a cruiser engine, for almost 40 minutes.
“As a community leader, that’s something that I have to take very seriously…I mean who in their right mind would not be concerned about somebody being able to racial profile somebody that’s doing nothing wrong,” Heyward says.
Futeral says since there was no arrest, Heyward may not be entitled to legal action against the department, but he recommends having a discussion with leaders about the incident.
“It’s unfortunate that this took place, but no one got injured and he didn’t get incarcerated. That being said, I think it is worth him pressing for a meeting with higher ranking officials within the sheriff’s department to talk about training on this particular subject,” Futeral says.
Heyward says he isn’t done with this incident, even if the internal investigation is closed. He feels this is important for him to stand up for his constituents and himself on the matter.
“They cleared it. So he’s allowed to do it again. And it’s a pattern. I want to see all the tickets he wrote in his career because I want to take a look at that,” Heyward says.
Overall, Heyward says he wants to see more transparency and change from the Charleston County Sheriff’s Department in the future.
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