About the case
WHEN: May 16, 2011 WHERE: Cottageville, SC WHAT: Randall Price, a police officer with the Cottageville Police Department at the time, fatally shot the town’s former mayor, Bert Reeves. CASE STATUS: Remains under state and federal criminal investigation.
LATEST DEVELOPMENT: Wrongful death lawsuit filed in federal court by Reeves ex-wife, on behalf of their children, against Price and the Town of Cottageville. The suit remains pending and is scheduled for trial in November.
Former Cottageville Mayor Bert Reeves acted like he was on drugs and vowed to go after town police officer Randall Price in the moments before the confrontation that resulted in Reeves death two years ago, his aunt testified in a deposition.
Cottageville Mayor Margaret Steen’s description of her encounter with her nephew is included in documents recently filed in a federal lawsuit against Price and the town of Cottageville. The documents, filed by Price’s attorney, paint Reeves as a mentally unstable, controlling and dangerous man in the years before he was fatally shot by Price during a confrontation on a dusty dirt road near Town Hall on May 16, 2011.
The documents indicate Reeves’ family considered him to be a threat to himself and others and that his brother attempted to have the former mayor involuntarily committed for psychiatric care at one point.
Price’s lawyer, Lake Summers, filed the documents as part of his effort to defend his client against a lawsuit filed in September by Reeves’ ex-wife, Ashley, on behalf of their children. The suit alleges the town was negligent in hiring Price and that he targeted Reeves because the former mayor had complained about the officer’s “aggressive behavior.”
Ashley Reeves and her attorney said the documents filed by Summers are an irrelevant distraction that have little to do with what happened to Reeves in May 2011. Much of the material Summers has obtained comes from her divorce from Reeves in 2007, and she said it has no bearing on the case at hand.
“We did go through a bad time around the time of our divorce but after our divorce he got better,” she said. “He was a really good father to his children.”
Details have been scant about the investigation into Bert Reeves’ death. The State Law Enforcement Division case remains open and it’s also being examined by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Justice Department for possible criminal and civil rights violations.
But some of the documents filed by Summers shed new light on what might have happened moments before Reeves was shot.
In a deposition, Steen talked about her last conversation with her nephew before his fatal encounter with Price. Steen stated that she was at Town Hall that day when Price arrived at work.
Reeves pulled his car behind Price’s cruiser and started blowing the horn, according to her deposition. Steen said she told Price to go ahead and leave. Reeves then told her he “was about this close to getting him,” according to her deposition.
Steen said she told Reeves that he needed to talk with the police chief and to leave her out of the matter, the deposition stated. “And he got this look on his face and he pointed, just like this, and said ‘I’m going to get him now,’ and took off like a bat,” Steen stated.
Steen said she found then-Police Chief John Craddock and warned him there was going to be a confrontation. A short time later, Craddock called with the news that Reeves was dead, she stated in the deposition.
Steen also stated that Reeves acted like he was on drugs. “He was acting wild and crazy at that particular time,” she stated.
Mullins McLeod, an attorney representing the Reeves’ family, said Steen also alleged that Reeves was drunk that day but toxicology tests came back negative for alcohol. “We look forward to the jury passing judgment on the credibility of the defendant’s witnesses,” he said.
The toxicology report, included in Summers’ case filing, shows Reeves was not under the influence of illicit drugs at the time of his death. It does indicate he had “therapeutic levels” of three prescription drugs used to treat anxiety.
Summers’ filing also includes an undated petition from Reeves’ brother to involuntarily hospitalize Reeves for treatment of mental illness. In the petition, Mercer Reeves stated that he believed his brother was a danger to himself or to others because of “text messages stating that he could not take another breathe (sic) without children, so he is gone.”
He also stated that there had been verbal threats toward family members, “Threaten to kill cousin and threats to harm law enforcement,” the application read. The application does not indicate Reeves was hospitalized as a result of the application. In a letter also filed in the suit, Palmetto Behavioral Health officials stated Reeves was never a patient there. But paperwork from Reeves’ divorce case indicates that Reeves was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility on Nov. 22, 2006.
Ashley Reeves had filed for divorce two days earlier. Her divorce petition stated that her husband had been unfaithful, was using illegal drugs and had “increasingly engaged in erratic and dangerous behavior to the point that the Plaintiff (Ashley Reeves) is afraid of him and believes ... he presents a danger to the children.”
In an affidavit Ashley Reeves filed in the divorce case, she stated that her husband’s risky and erratic behavior grew worse after a July 2006 car accident left him with severe head trauma. “He seems to have delusions and to be paranoid. Also when he is not in control of what I am doing he becomes extremely angry,” she stated in the affidavit.
Ashley Reeves also cited an incident in which she alleged Bert Reeves threatened to burn down their house. “I have tried very hard to hold my marriage together. However, things have become increasingly worse over the past several weeks and I have become afraid of my husband,” according to her affidavit.
A judge granted the divorce on grounds of adultery by Bert Reeves on June 4, 2007, according to court documents. The judge ruled that the pair would have joint custody of their two children. The children were to live with their mother, and their father was granted visitation. The judge ordered that Bert Reeves would be allowed to drive with his children in the car, which had previously been denied, as long as he continued to receive treatment as recommended by his psychiatrist and his therapist.
These and other documents filed by Summers describe Reeves’ actions and state of mind at the time of his divorce, and Summers said he wants access to Reeves’ psychiatric records from the years that followed to show whether that pattern of behavior continued.
“What we’re trying to determine is what was going in that period, what physicians was he seeing, what psychologist he was seeing, to see what kind of care, if any, he was being administered,” Summers said.
McLeod, Ashley Reeves’ attorney, has opposed Summers’ requests for that information, arguing that it’s not relevant to the case concerning Reeves’ death.
A judge has yet to rule on the matter.
Who’s to blame?
Since the shooting, Reeves’ family has put the blame for his death squarely on Price and the town. They have alleged the town was negligent in hiring and failing to supervise Price, and that the officer used excessive force against Reeves.
The lawsuit alleges that Price, then 40, drove to Nut Hatch Lane, blocked Reeves in and shot him in the chest. The town has countered that Reeves’ reckless actions led to his death.
Price has not returned to law enforcement since the shooting. He was laid off from the Cottageville Police Department in September. He started in Cottageville in May 2008 after cycling through eight jobs in 11 years. His work history includes multiple firings, allegations of misconduct and brutality claims.
Then-Police Chief Craddock has said Reeves was upset that Price had cited one of Reeves’ employees for a drinking-related violation after the man was caught noisily riding a motorcycle up and down the main drag and “acting crazy.” The incident occurred a month before the shooting, and Reeves had formally complained to Craddock and Reeves’ aunt about Price of being too aggressive in enforcing the law.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.
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