CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The family of a former small-town South Carolina mayor who authorities say was shot to death by a police officer he had complained about for aggressive behavior has been awarded $97 million in a federal wrongful death lawsuit.
Bert Reeves was shot in the chest with a service revolver belonging to Officer Randall Price in May 2011, along a rural dirt road. Price, who has not been charged in the death, is no longer a police officer. Authorities have said Reeves had objected after Price arrested an employee of his construction business.
Reeves' family sued and multiple media outlets reported the jury Wednesday awarded $7.5 million actual damages, $60 million punitive damages against the town of Cottageville and $30 million punitive damages against Price. The family had said in the lawsuit that the town should never have hired Price after his troubled employment history in different departments, including being fired.
Family attorney Mullins McLeod told the jury that Price shot Reeves because the ex-mayor raised concerns about the officer's behavior
Reeves wanted Price gone and Price retaliated, McLeod said.
"You certainly should be able to complain about a cop without fear of being killed," McLeod told the jury.
Price's attorney, Lake Summers, said the ex-Cottageville mayor suffered from bipolar disorder and was enraged when he confronted the officer. Summers said Price fired in self-defense. He would not talk about the jury award.
Though Price has not been charged in the death, McLeod said an investigation is ongoing. Investigators said it wasn't clear how the two ended up on the dirt road near the town's main thoroughfare where Reeves lived.
In February 2010, the Post and Courier of Charleston reported that Price insisted that he had been victimized by vendettas in the small towns where he cycled through eight jobs in 11 years.
Cottageville has several weeks to decide whether to appeal the decision.