Frustration is building in the tiny town of Cottageville as an investigation nears its second anniversary with no firm answers in the police-involved shooting of former Mayor Bert Reeves in May 2011.
Depending on who you talk to, FBI agents are still sniffing around town for clues or the probe is stuck in a logjam of cases awaiting review by the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division in Washington, D.C. Officially, the feds aren’t giving any status reports, much to the consternation of folks in this rural Colleton County burg.
Cottageville Mayor Margaret Steen said she inquires about the case at least once a week and gets no answers. She said it’s time for federal or state officials to act on the case, one way or another.
“They don’t tell us anything,” Steen, who was Reeve’s aunt, said. “I wish they would just go ahead and do it. It’s time. It’s been two years. That’s ridiculous.”
The State Law Enforcement Division conducted the initial criminal investigation into the shooting, but the results of that probe have not been made public. SLED has referred questions to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which would only confirm this week that the case remains under investigation.
So far, all anyone knows for sure is that former officer Randall Price fatally shot Reeves during a confrontation of some sort on a dusty dirt road near town hall on May 16, 2011.
Steen and others had hoped to see movement on the case after learning federal officials had recently closed the books on their investigation into another police-involved shooting in Orangeburg County that occurred just two weeks before Reeves was shot.
In that case, the Justice Department declined to pursue charges against a former police chief in Eutawville who fatally shot 54-year-old Bernard Bailey during a confrontation outside that community’s town hall. First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe is now conducting his own inquiry into Bailey’s death.
Steen said she can’t understand why federal officials can’t make a decision in her town’s case, as well. She said she hasn’t seen any sign of FBI activity on the case in months.
But George Addison, a former Cottageville mayor and Town Council member, said he and others were contacted by the FBI just this past week about the shooting. The agents seemed focused on nailing down the timeline of events and double-checking statements given in the case, he said.
“They really seemed interested,” he said.
The civil case
As the probe grinds on, a federal judge gave the okay this month for proceedings to resume in a civil lawsuit against Price, who was laid off by the town a few months after shooting Reeves.
Reeves’ widow, Ashley, is suing Price, the town and its police department over her husband’s death. Among other things, the lawsuit alleges that the town was negligent in hiring and failing to supervise Price, and that the officer used excessive force against Reeves.
In December, U.S. District Judge David Norton put discovery efforts targeting Price on hold for three months while the court waited to see how the federal investigation played out.
Price’s lawyer, Lake Summers of Columbia, recently asked for another 90-day stay, saying his client’s right against self-incrimination would be jeopardized if the case moved forward. Norton, however, ruled that such concerns were conjecture at this point, as Price has not been indicted for a crime “and indictment does not seem imminent.”
Ashley Reeves’ lawyer, Mullins McLeod, applauded the ruling. He can now seek to have Price answer questions about the shooting in a formal deposition.
“The family was happy with the court’s order because they think it’s time for Officer Price to answer for what he did,” McLeod said.
Summers said the judge’s ruling does not preclude Price from invoking his Fifth Amendment rights and refusing to answer certain questions. That said, Price, who has denied any wrongdoing, is eager to set the record straight “to the extent that he can,” Summers said.
“Randy has desired an opportunity to defend himself,” Summers said.
A deadly meeting
The lawsuit states that Price targeted Reeves because the former mayor raised concerns about complaints from town residents about the officer’s “aggressive behavior.”
The lawsuit alleges that Price, then 40, drove to Nut Hatch Lane, blocked Reeves in and shot him in the chest.
In their responses to the lawsuit, the town and its police department state that Reeves’ reckless and negligent acts are to blame for his death. Reeves failed to follow Price’s orders, assaulted the officer and tried to inflict serious injury, they stated. They also indicated that Reeves was under the influence of alcohol “and/or some illegal substance” at the time.
Price, who had cycled through eight police jobs in 11 years, has not returned to law enforcement since the shooting. He currently works in construction while he awaits some resolution in the case, Summers said.
“He’s just waiting and doing the best he can,” he said.