Bluffton Police Officer Resigns After Excessive Force Allegation. It Wasn’t The First Claim

South Carolina – A police officer who showed a pattern of using excessive force — and was hired by the Bluffton Police Department last year while on probation with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office — resigned in early July, days after an internal investigation found he did not properly de-escalate an incident in Old Town and subsequently lied to investigators.

Since September 2015, Johnathon Bates, 38, had been investigated four times for the way he dealt with citizens. Three of those incidents involved Bates physically pulling or shoving a handcuffed, intoxicated man, according to Bluffton Police and Sheriff’s Office files.

Two of the four investigations found Bates in violation of department policies.

Bates, who had been with the Bluffton department since July 2017, submitted his handwritten resignation July 6, according to his personnel file.

Interim Police Chief Scott Chandler said Bates’ letter did not offer a reason for the resignation.

On July 10, Chandler told The Island Packet the investigation involving Bates in connection with the incident in the Promenade in Old Town had recently concluded. Both Chandler and town attorney Terry Finger declined then to provide more information.

The newspaper obtained Bates’ personnel file and documents relating to the internal investigations from the Bluffton Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office through open-records requests.

The Bluffton incident happened March 16 outside bars on Promenade Street and involved an intoxicated person.

Bates and three other officers were on the scene.

While the officers waited for a transport vehicle to take the suspect to jail, he was held in handcuffs and stood at the front of a patrol car.

While Bates was searching the man, the suspect grabbed Bates’ hand a number of times, the internal investigation report said.

Bates told the suspect “if he continued to grab his hand … he would hurt him,” according to the report.

The grabbing continued until the suspect allegedly kicked Bates in the groin, the report said.

Dashcam footage shows Bates grabbing the suspect’s left shoulder and pushing him off the hood of the car. The fall resulted in the suspect breaking his nose, the report said.

The investigation into the incident began May 29.

After conducting interviews, reviewing reports, and watching videos, investigators wrote “there are some levels of concerns with Officer J. Bates.”

The investigation listed four facts specific to Bates:

▪ On two separate occasions, Bates told the suspect if he grabbed his hand again he would hurt him.

▪ Despite completing de-escalation training with the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy in July 2016 — which includes training on “dealing with someone who is non-compliant” and “maintaining a professional demeanor” — Bates said the department’s Use of Force Policy does not define de-escalation.

▪ During an interview, Bates told investigators he and the suspect “slipped off the hood and fell to the ground.” Dashcam footage from the scene captured Bates telling another officer the suspect kicked him so he “took him to the ground.”

▪ Bates’ initial report documenting the incident was “very basic” and only a paragraph long. His supervisor told him to include more detail. The second report did and described the entire incident leading up to the use of force.

The internal investigation found Bates in violation of the department’s Response to Resistance procedure where “an officer must attempt to control all situations in which he/she is involved and must attempt to control them by de-escalating the need for any type of response to resistance.”

It also found Bates violated the department’s Code of Conduct which says “employees shall not knowingly make false statements to, or withhold information from supervisory personnel or Internal Affairs when questioned, interviewed, or in submitting statements or reports.”

The final report from the investigation was sent to Chandler for review on July 2.

Four days later, before a ruling could be issued, Bates resigned.

In June, there was another investigation involving Bates and the use of force.

The investigation involved prisoner treatment. The complaint was found to be without merit.

The incident happened on Oct. 29, 2017, at the Bluffton Police Department when Bates and another officer were handling a suspect who had been arrested for driving under the influence, according to the internal investigation report.

In June of this year, another officer saw the report Bates wrote about that incident and questioned whether the suspect should have been charged with resisting arrest since he was handcuffed in the back of a patrol car at the time, the report said.

Both Bates and the other officer on the scene told the suspect he needed to get out of the car. The suspect refused and told the officers he didn’t want to take a breathalyzer test and just wanted to go to jail.

The other officer continued telling the suspect to get out of the car when Bates “moved him aside, grabbed the suspect and pulled him out of the vehicle,” the report said.

The suspect fell to the ground and injured his shoulder, the report said.

Investigators wrote there was no policy violation because both officers “attempted to use de-esclation methods” by telling the suspect to get out of the car, the report said.

Another note in the report said the 14th Circuit solicitor’s office reviewed the case and dismissed the resisting arrest charge.

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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