A grand jury has indicted former Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs in the fatal shooting of a retired correctional officer, bringing some closure to a violent episode that has frustrated residents of the small Orangeburg County town for two years.
Combs’ indictment for misconduct in office alleges that he used excessive force against 54-year-old Bernard Bailey, who was shot three times during a confrontation on May 2, 2011, authorities said. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe confirmed the indictment Wednesday morning but declined to comment further.
Combs is expected to surrender to authorities Thursday and go for a bail hearing at 10 a.m. in Orangeburg. His attorney, Norma Jett of Orangeburg, did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
The indictment follows Pascoe’s decision to have the State Law Enforcement Division investigate the case further after the U.S. Department of Justice in March informed him they had closed their file on the shooting and declined prosecuting Combs.
Town officials have refused to discuss the case, and law enforcement agencies have said next to nothing about how the shooting transpired. Eutawville Mayor Jean Akers did not return a call from The Post and Courier Wednesday.
Bailey’s friends have said the shooting apparently stemmed from a dispute over a traffic ticket issued to one of Bailey’s daughters.
Friends have said Bailey was shot in his truck outside the municipal building after exchanging words with Combs that morning. An autopsy showed that Bailey was shot twice in the chest and once in the shoulder.
His friends described Bailey as a gentle, kind-hearted and law-abiding man who, at the time of his death, was working as an assistant manager at a Walmart in Summerville.
Combs, then 35, was originally placed on leave but was later terminated on Nov. 1, 2011, according to S.C. Criminal Justice Academy records.
Bailey’s widow, Doris Bailey, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in October against the town, its police department and Combs. The family’s attorney, Carl Grant of Orangeburg, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The lack of official information in the case led to deep, mounting frustration in Eutawville. For some, the issue was all the more troubling because the shooting — involving a white police officer and a black man —— conjured images of the Old South.
A review by the Justice Department, however, did not uncover civil rights violations, authorities said.
The Rev. Gralin Nix-Hampton, president of the Holly Hill Ministerial Alliance, said Wednesday the indictment was a welcome sign of progress in the case.
“It was a just a tremendous tragedy for a man to be shot three times by a person who was supposed to uphold the laws,” he said. “I empathize with Mr. Combs’ family, but I do believe a type of justice has been done here, and I am pleased with that.”
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.