White S.C. trooper who hit black motorist assigned to governor
By Rick Brundrett
COLUMBIA, S.C. — A white trooper seen on a squad-car video repeatedly striking a black motorist in 2006 now is on the security detail of Gov. Mark Sanford — who has said another trooper who used a racial slur against a black motorist should have been fired.
The trooper, Lance Cpl. E.J. Burton, was ordered to undergo counseling — but received no other discipline following the incident, according to records obtained by The State newspaper under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act.
The Burton video was one of three the Department of Public Safety released Monday in response to The State’s FOIA request. They show separate incidents in 2006 in which troopers were investigated to ascertain whether they used excessive force against motorists after vehicle pursuits.
Two of the incidents involved white troopers and black passengers who were not arrested. The other involved a white trooper and white driver charged with leading police on a long-distance, high-speed chase.
Sanford "was concerned to learn today" about Burton’s record and will ask that he be reassigned, spokesman Ben Fox said Monday, pointing out that the governor does not put together his own security detail.
Officials from the State Law Enforcement Division and the departments of Public Safety and Natural Resources recommend officers to work in the governor’s security detail, Fox said.
"It’s important that each of the involved agencies carefully review their procedures for evaluating candidates for the governor’s security detail," Fox said, "so that this and future governors don’t face the prospect of being confronted with allegations like this."
Public Safety spokesman Sid Gaulden said Monday he didn’t know when Burton joined Sanford’s security detail.
The governor’s office earlier Monday had released a statement saying Sanford has not viewed any of the three latest tapes.
Sanford on Feb. 29 forced the resignations of Department of Public Safety Director James Schweitzer and Highway Patrol commander Col. Russell Roark over another video in which a white trooper is seen using a racial slur against a fleeing black motorist during a 2004 Greenwood County traffic stop.
Sanford said then he felt Schweitzer and Roark were too lenient on the trooper and that he should have been fired.
The U.S. attorney for South Carolina, the FBI, the Justice Department and the State Law Enforcement Division have launched investigations into possible civil rights violations stemming from incidents caught on videotape, including two in which troopers struck suspects fleeing on foot with their patrol vehicles.
State Rep. Leon Howard, a Democrat and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said Monday the troopers in the latest videos should have been fired.
"It’s proof what the Black Caucus has been saying," Howard said, "that the Patrol is out of control, that a Rambo, cowboy attitude is allowed to run rampant."
The latest videos should be viewed in the context that troopers make about 500,000 traffic stops every year, Gaulden said. "It’s an infinitesimal small number that in no way demonstrates a pattern of racist behavior."
The latest videos bring to eight the total number the Department of Public Safety has released since late February.
In one of the tapes released Monday, Burton is seen hitting a man with his hands and a flashlight a total of seven times after he and other troopers pulled him out of the passenger side of a fleeing car that was stopped in Sumter County on Jan. 24, 2006.
The passenger, Aaron Goodman, who is black, was handcuffed and questioned. He was released after it was determined he was "not wanted and did not violate any law during the pursuit," an internal affairs report said.
In his statement to an internal affairs investigator, Burton said he hit Goodman with his hand "three or four times" to get him to comply with orders to get out of the car, and that he "tapped" Goodman on the back of his head with the flashlight while "still trying to gain compliance."
Burton’s supervisor, Cpl. Josepha Ham, who is black, was reprimanded for failing to properly report Burton’s actions.
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On another tape, then-Cpl. Michael D. Tomson, who is white, is seen poking a shotgun toward a black man who was forced to lie on the ground after a fleeing pickup in which he was a passenger was stopped in Orangeburg County on Nov. 13, 2006.
The passenger, Demetrius Jones, told an internal affairs investigator Tomson hit him in the face with the barrel of the shotgun, causing his face to bleed and swell, though that cannot be seen on the tape. Tomson said the barrel of his gun "made contact with his cheek." Another trooper reported Tomson told him at the scene that the gun "slipped."
Tomson later was demoted to lance corporal — with a 10 percent salary reduction — and reassigned after the internal affairs investigation, records show. Tomson is appealing his punishment.
On the third tape, then-Lance Cpl. John B. Sawyer is seen kicking a truck driver at least seven times in the head area on May 28, 2006, in Sumter County after the man was ordered out of a dump truck that officers pursued for miles on I-95.
Both Sawyer, who resigned during an internal affairs investigation, and the driver, identified as Sergio Cardini, are white.
Cardini was charged with assault and battery with intent to kill for hitting another vehicle during the chase. The documents don’t indicate whether he was treated for injuries.