COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Two former small town police officers in South Carolina were sentenced to prison time Monday for unnecessarily shocking a mentally disabled woman with a Taser at least eight times.
Franklin Brown, 35, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and his fellow Marion police officer Eric Walters, 39, was sentenced to a year and a day. Brown's sentence was longer because he shocked 40-year-old Melissa Davis while she was already handcuffed in April 2013.
When fellow officers asked Brown why he shocked the handcuffed woman, he replied he "did not want to touch that nasty (obscenity)," according to the plea agreement Brown signed last October.
The sentences were at the low end of the federal guidelines for the case, but federal judge Bryan Harwell said it was important to send a message that police officers are not above the law, especially when they do something like this.
"This one incident can cause the public to lose respect and overshadow the good work, the hard work, done by thousands of officers every day," Harwell said.
Monday's sentencing came just over three weeks after a North Charleston police officer was charged with murder in the shooting of an unarmed motorist and on the same day as protests in Baltimore — some of them violent — over the death of a man who suffered a severe spinal injury in police custody.
Davis sat in the courtroom, far from Brown and Walters. When Walters told the judge he was sorry for what he did for her, Davis began sobbing and her family took her out of the courtroom. Her sister said the woman who had never been in trouble in her life has nightmares, can't even see a police officer without getting scared and is reminded what happened that night every time she looks in the mirror and sees a scar on her forehead.
"Whenever Melissa hears a siren, she tenses up," said her sister Loretta Baldwin, who has sued the officers and the city of Marion, asking for a minimum of nearly $2 million.
Davis, who had lived in the city of 7,000 most of her life, was walking from one house to another around 1:30 one night in April 2013 when Walters stopped her. Walters has never made it clear what happened, but he ended up shooting her with his Taser, then following up with four more shocks after demanding she put her hands behind her back but giving her no time to respond, according to his plea agreement.
When Brown arrived as backup, Davis was in handcuffs and Walters was removing the Taser probes from her back. Brown said it appeared one of Davis' hands had slipped from her improperly applied handcuffs and he ordered everyone to move away and shocked Davis again, even though she was not trying to fight or escape, according to his plea agreement.
Brown shocked Davis twice more, then offered to let her go if he could shoot her in the forehead one more time with his Taser, prosecutors said.
Brown said little in court. He took off his glasses and stared ahead when Davis' sister spoke. The judge agreed to let him graduate from technical school before he reports to prison for 18 months.
Walters apologized to Davis, his family and the city of Marion. He said he has no job and had to tell his children, once so proud their dad was a police officer, that he did a bad thing and has to go to jail.
"That's not me. That wasn't me. I made one mistake. Now I am going to pay the ultimate price," Walters said.
Walters' lawyer has asked for six months in prison and six months of home confinement because he has already had several heart attacks. The sentence for both Walters and Brown were well under the 10-year maximum for the deprivation of rights under color of law charge each pleaded guilty to in October.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.