A decorated soldier is suing the North Charleston Police Department, alleging that an officer unnecessarily deployed his stun gun on him after a traffic stop four years ago.
Brian Knite Yates, 28, of Ladson, is a sergeant first class in the Army, a court document filed by his attorney said.
He has received numerous military service awards, including the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal in 2004, the records show.
Yates claimed he was wrongfully arrested and assaulted, and he contends that his civil rights were violated by the North Charleston police officer, a charge the department attorney denies.
The case involved a black motorist pulled over by a white police officer. Within the last year, the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has accused North Charleston police of using racial profiling and aggressively targeting black motorists. Police have denied those allegations.
Jury selection for Yates’ civil suit was scheduled for Tuesday but was rescheduled for later this year because Yates is serving with the S.C. National Guard overseas, his attorney, Gordon Garrett, said. The case was transferred to federal court because his claims deal with constitutional rights.
On Dec. 27, 2008, Yates was at his mother’s house in Ladson when he got a call from his wife. She told him his daughter was sick and needed to go to the doctor, court documents filed by Garrett said.
While Yates was driving to Goose Creek to pick up his wife and daughter, he was pulled over by an officer, Garrett’s complaint documents said.
Even though Garrett claimed his client was “following all traffic laws,” Officer Christopher Terry pulled him over at 9195 University Blvd.
Garrett said Yates works on cars as a hobby, and while to some people the cars appear impressive, to others they seem like cars that belong to criminals, he said.
Terry claimed he pulled Yates over for reasons including loud bass and music coming from his car, his incident report said.
Yates claimed the officer ordered him out of his car, twisted his arm, then deployed his stun gun onto Yates’ back, the civil complaint filed by Garrett said. The officer stunned him three times, police and court records show.
“I think the use of the stun gun has become a cure-all solution,” Garrett said.
When Terry pulled Yates over, Yates said he didn’t have his driver’s license, police records said. The officer tried handcuffing Yates while he attempted to investigate, court records submitted by North Charleston Police Department’s attorney said.
Yates’ mother and brother arrived on the scene while Terry was arresting him. Shortly after their arrival, Terry said he used his stun gun because he saw Yates turn “as if he was going towards the driver’s door.”
The incident report said Terry jolted Yates again because Yates tried to get up, and a third time because he reached around his waistband area.
Patricia Yates, his mother, who said she initially didn’t realize the officer was using a stun gun, said she will never forget that moment.
“I thought my baby died in front of my eyes,” she said.
Garrett, Yates’ attorney, wouldn’t go into detail about whether he believes it was racially motivated. He said the complaint speaks for itself.
“He was a young black man in North Charleston, and I certainly can’t read into the mind of the officer, but he was treated in a way that I find absolutely remarkable,” he said.
Terry could not be reached, and attorneys would not make him available for comment.
Yates was originally charged with loud noise from a vehicle, no driver’s license in possession, and resisting arrest/disorderly conduct, the police report said. All the charges were dropped, municipal court records show.
Despite Yates’ claim that the North Charleston officer assaulted and improperly arrested him, no criminal investigation was ever launched regarding the alleged assault by the officer.
“There was no investigation into Mr. Yates’ arrest whatsoever because he never filed a complaint. Needless to say, there was no discipline,” said Sandra Senn, the department’s attorney.
When asked why Yates never filed a complaint with the department, Garrett said he didn’t represent him at that time.
“He was trying to balance some justice from the situation without putting the media spotlight upon himself,” he said.
The only notice police had of Yates’ allegations against Terry came through the civil suit, according to Senn, which she said they plan to “defend vigorously.”
Terry remains in good standing with North Charleston Police Department, Senn said. It’s not the first complaint against Terry.
Two months before Yates’ arrest, Ronnie Lewis Ware, 48 of North Charleston, who also is black, filed a complaint with the police department, police records show. He alleged that Terry slammed him against a wall for insulting the officer’s mother.
Police officials said internal investigations ruled the complaint unsubstantiated.
Ware has been arrested more than a dozen times and convicted of burglary, resisting arrest, and most recently forgery.
Garrett, Yates’ attorney, said his case will not go to court before Yates returns from service overseas.
“His primary concern is his continuance as a member of the military,” Garrett said.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5560 or Twitter.com/ncaula.