Police officers' names still secret 3 years after shooting

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Posted: Oct 04, 2015 4:05 PM
Police officers' names still secret 3 years after shooting

RIDGEWAY, S.C. (AP) — It's been nearly three years since Gregory McDaniel was shot twice, losing a kidney, during a police drug raid on a South Carolina home where he was sleeping. But no one will tell McDaniel who shot him.

All he has is a brief police report from Fairfield County deputies that says an unidentified officer fired twice after he thought McDaniel was trying to "disarm him" during the Oct. 19, 2012 raid about 25 miles north of Columbia.

No other details about the shooting are given.

State investigators and prosecutors have refused to release the officer's name, and his lawyer accuses them of stalling to prevent a costly lawsuit.

If McDaniel — who is awaiting trial on a cocaine trafficking charge from the raid — sues only the three sheriff's offices that sent deputies that day, he can only recover $300,000 under state law, attorney Robert Phillips said. However, if McDaniel sues the individual officers for federal civil rights violations, there would be no cap on the award — likely being paid by liability insurance — but that lawsuit must be filed within three years of the shooting, his lawyer said.

Less than three weeks before the deadline, Phillips still doesn't have the names.

"If I don't know who it is, I can't sue them," Phillips said. "The officer put a gun in his side and blew out a kidney. He has more than $1 million in medical bills. It doesn't make sense."

In only three of South Carolina's 145 police shootings from 2009 to 2012 have the names of the officers involved not been released, according to a police shooting database created by The Post and Courier of Charleston.

The State Law Enforcement Division investigated McDaniel's shooting and months ago sent a report to Solicitor Randy Newman. Newman hasn't decided yet whether to charge the officer, which would make the name public.

Newman denied his actions were aimed at saving money. He said he was swamped with 5,000 open cases when he took office in January, with 150 new cases arriving each month.

"That's not the only one on my desk," Newman said.

But he again refused to name any officers on the raid.

"I'm not releasing anything else at this time," Newman said Wednesday.

Two of the three sheriffs whose departments sent officers on the raid didn't return phone calls from The Associated Press.

Fairfield County sheriff's spokesman Maj. Brad Douglas said none of his department's officers were disciplined over the shooting. When asked their names, he said he would have to talk to the sheriff and Newman. He didn't call back.

Attorney Jay Bender, who handles Freedom of Information Act lawsuits for news agencies across the state, said the law gives no reason to withhold the names of police officers who shoot people while on duty, regardless of whether the shooting was justified.

"When you shoot somebody, you're not the victim," Bender said.

McDaniel's lawyer didn't make him available to speak to a reporter. He has been arrested on drug and assault charges in South Carolina before, and was convicted in 2012 of a misdemeanor unlawful carrying of a weapon charge.

McDaniel sued all three sheriffs and their departments, SLED officials and 20 of what the lawsuit calls "John Doe" officers. The lawsuit said SLED has turned down freedom of information requests for more information from McDaniel's lawyers too.

In his lawsuit, McDaniel said he was sleeping when the pre-dawn drug raid started. He said he walked out of a bedroom after being awakened by officers pounding and kicking in the door. He said they did not identify themselves as police before shooting him in the leg.

After he fell down screaming, McDaniel said the officer told him he didn't know why he fired his gun, then shot him again in the chest, the lawsuit said.

The lawyers for the police agencies deny the allegations. The police report said the deputies identified themselves as officers and McDaniel was shot after the "subject made actions that led an officer to believe the subject was attempting to disarm him."

McDaniel was renting the trailer where he was shot. It sits behind the home of Anthony Gibson.

Gibson was not home during the raid, but said McDaniel later recounted it.

"He said, they knocked twice and kicked in the door," Gibson said. "He knew then it was the police. He walked out of his bedroom in his boxers and a T-shirt with his hands up, and Boom!"

SLED's report likely contains a more detailed account and statements from the officers there. But spokesman Thom Berry said the report cannot be released because the case is still open. While SLED investigates nearly all police-involved shootings in South Carolina, it lets local police determine what information to release.

Defense attorneys and public records advocates contend that violates freedom of information laws. They said the law only allows police to keep information secret when there is the imminent threat of a law enforcement action being compromised.

The AP and The Aiken Standard newspaper have sued SLED over its refusal to release dashboard camera video in a fatal police shooting involving a North Augusta officer, who is charged with a felony in the incident. Lawyers with the news organizations hope a judge will force a change in SLED's policy.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP