Reports: Mistrial in case of ex-South Carolina police chief

AP News
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Posted: Jun 19, 2015 11:10 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A judge declared a mistrial Friday evening in the retrial of a white former South Carolina police chief who was charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed black man, media outlets reported.

Judge Brian Gibbons ended trial Friday evening after a jury deliberated nearly seven hours without reaching a unanimous decision in the case of former Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs, TV station WLTX19 ( http://on.wltx.com/1J9fZEM ) reported.

TV station WISTV ( http://bit.ly/1L8hXVl ) said a prosecutor, First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, told it the state would evaluate options after a mistrial was declared. The station reported that after members of the jury were unable to come away with a verdict, the judge in the case was given no choice but to declare a mistrial.

Court officials and lawyers could not be immediately reached by The Associated Press for comment.

On trial a second time for murder, Combs claimed he acted self-defense through his attorney in the May 2011 death of Bernard Bailey outside the Eutawville town hall, which also houses the one-man police department.

Combs' first trial in January ended in a deadlocked jury after 12 hours of deliberations. This week's trial was moved about 50 miles from Orangeburg County to Richland County after prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed there had been extensive pretrial publicity.

The State newspaper said the retrial went to the jury Friday afternoon after heated closing arguments by defense and prosecution lawyers.

A lawyer for Combs said in his opening statement that Combs had a legitimate obstruction of justice warrant signed by a judge and feared for his life because he was trapped by the door of the man's pickup truck as he tried to back away during a confrontation.

The judge in his first trial allowed jurors to consider a voluntary manslaughter charge, and Gibbons told the jury in the retrial that that was something they could also consider, according to The State newspaper.

Combs and Bailey first confronted each other in spring 2011 when the small town police chief pulled over Bailey's 20-year-old daughter for a broken taillight. Bailey lived only a few blocks away, and his daughter called and asked him to come. Bailey and the police chief argued, and both thought things were going so badly that Combs called for backup and Bailey called 911 to have another officer sent to the scene, prosecutors said.

Three days later, Combs sought an obstruction of justice warrant against Bailey — a charge that can carry up to 10 years in prison. But he didn't try to serve it for nearly seven weeks, until Bailey came to Town Hall in May to discuss his daughter's ticket, Pascoe said.

Bailey left Combs' office and got into his truck to leave. Combs followed him out and fired three shots, which all hit Bailey, including a point-blank shot to the chest. He died almost instantly, his foot on the brake of his truck, the solicitor said.

"Dead because of a broken taillight," Pascoe said. "Dead because of the defendant's horrible judgment."

But a defense lawyer said Combs was a police officer doing his duties who feared that he would be run over by Bailey, who had already ignored several commands to stop.

"It was a lawful warrant, signed by a judge," said Combs' lawyer, Wally Fayssoux.

Combs also had no choice but to shoot Bailey because the town of 300 didn't give him a Taser, pepper spray, body armor or anything else beyond a badge and a gun, Fayssoux said.

The case is a tragedy for everyone, but what Combs did was legal, his lawyer said.

"Bernard Bailey will never go home," Fayssoux said. "Chief Combs' life will never go back to where it was."