80-year-old St. George woman shocked by Taser normally a sweet lady, police say
ST. GEORGE — In a place signs call “the town of friendly people,” Dorris Brown fit right in.
Folks knew the 80-year-old as a mild-mannered, God-fearing woman who made a mean sweet potato pie and walked to the Piggly Wiggly for cookies and chips.
During her strolls, she leaned on a metal cane to support a body weak from arthritis and a heart hooked to a pacemaker. But it was that walking stick that police say became a dangerous weapon when Brown was overcome with rage early one morning.
She ranted about a landlord who wouldn’t return her security deposit, broke windows of the house she once rented and claimed to be Job, from the Bible. She banged her cane on porch railings, then took a swing at a police officer who tried to sneak up behind her.
And she wasn’t wearing clothes.
As a last resort for the lawmen trying to tame the octogenarian, the town’s police chief ordered a subordinate to shock her with a Taser, an act that has outraged community members who now miss Brown. She moved out of state after the episode, and her family has been silent on the issue.
“It was just one old lady, and lots of police,” said 65-year-old Betty Harris, who lives next to the rental house and heard the cacophony. “You would think they’d be able to compromise with her before they had to do that.”
Doctors at a Colleton County hospital deemed Brown unfazed by the incident just after midnight May 21, the police said. She was not arrested.
Chief Anthony Britt of the St. George Police Department said four policemen, including himself, did everything in their physical powers to safely corral her. But her flailing “left us with no alternative.”
‘Sweet old lady’
It was about 12:50 a.m. when an off-duty police lieutenant who lives nearby heard the racket, thinking it was the same burglar who has been breaking into neighborhood homes.
A private and a sergeant — the entire on-duty force at the time — responded to 413 Gavin St., just blocks west of the downtown. The off-duty lieutenant and Britt joined them.
Officers were met with Brown, who was naked, banging the cane against the house and talking “confusingly,” according to the incident report. Several windows already were broken — about $250 worth.
They knew the woman from a previous encounter, when she reported her purse missing. She has no arrest record.
But something had struck a nerve in the woman. Neighbors said she was incensed at her former landlord, Ralph James. She had moved out of the house because of roof leaks and a smelly carpet — repairs she claimed were never addressed.
And on top of that, she got back only $220 of her $500 security deposit.
Reached Friday, the landlord’s wife said “there was an issue,” but she wouldn’t delve into it.
“She was rattling off quotes from the Bible, saying she was Job,” Britt said. “We were the devil-worshipers.
“She’s usually a sweet old lady.”
The officers tried negotiation. One schemed to surreptitiously wrestle the 5-foot, 7-inch, 220-pound woman from behind, but she turned and “almost clipped him in the head with her cane,” Britt said.
“We did all we could do,” the chief said. “We had to take her down before someone got hurt. The Taser was a safe resolution.”
Even after the prongs from First Sgt. Anderson Polite’s stun gun lodged into her back and delivered an electric shock, she continued her diatribe, Britt said. She didn’t appear injured or in pain.
But the officers and paramedics managed to wrap her in a blanket and strap her to a gurney. Britt said she was sent for a mental-health evaluation, the results of which were not known.
Family members have thanked the police, according to the police. But relatives, including her son in the Baltimore area and a niece in Dorchester, declined to comment on the incident.
“She is going to be OK,” her son, James, said by telephone Friday before hanging up.
‘Don’t know why’
On Roosevelt Street, which intersects Gavin, Margaret Hallman plopped herself in a lawn chair outside her mobile home Friday.
The 68-year-old recalled the clack-clack of Brown’s cane as she would mosey down the street and pay Hallman visit. They’d sit under an oak tree and drink tea or soda, and eat chicken with rice and beans. They’d commiserate on the ailments of old age.
If Hallman needed money, Brown would lend some. If Hallman needed food, she’d make some.
They went together like peas and carrots, Hallman said.
“We’d laugh and talk,” Hallman said. “I really liked her. No, I loved her.
“I’m going to miss that.”
Brown enjoyed riding electric-powered carts at the area supermarket. Sometimes, she hitched a car ride home with a shopper, instead of walking the three-tenths of a mile.
On Thursdays and Sunday evenings, she’d clutch her Bible and walk to church, a bare white building across the street. “Jesus saves,” says the only sign plugged into the front lawn of Greater Life Church. Its pastor would say only that Brown “was a very, very religious lady.”
She often would remark on Jesus’ healing powers. She would quote Scriptures, but she wasn’t a fanatic. She could get feisty in her discussions but not violent.
“She’s the sweetest lady in the world,” said Hallman’s son, Troy Hallman. “I don’t know why they had to shoot her. They call this ‘the town of friendly people.’ ”
At the vacant rental house Friday, a storm door flapped in the breeze. A dislodged screen rested on the porch. Most of the windows were cracked. A cat stalked a rodent on the front lawn, fenced off from passersby.
A dozen people seen walking over the shady streets all knew of Brown. In the few months she lived here, she became a fixture.
“She was old, and we got along with her,” said a former neighbor, 57-year-old Ernest Ott. “So I don’t know why those cops had to Tase her.”
Addie Summers, 89, was a friend of Brown’s years ago, before she moved away to New York.
When she returned to the Lowcountry, they picked up where they left off. They were roommates before Brown moved to St. George.
After the incident, Summers spoke briefly with Brown as she underwent an evaluation at a mental-health facility in Conway. Summers said she was “teed off” when Brown told her of her run-in with the police.
“She was agitated. She was nervous,” Summers said. “They wanted to send her to the crazy house, but she’s not crazy.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.