Bail set for former Eutawville police chief charged with misconduct in Bernard Bailey killing
BY CHRISTINA ELMORE
ORANGEBURG — Dangling from a moving vehicle, then-Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs blasted three shots into a former corrections officer — one at point-blank range — after Combs tried to arrest him on a warrant two years ago, a prosecutor said Thursday.
First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe made the revelation during a bond hearing for Combs stemming from allegations that he unlawfully used excessive, deadly force when he shot and killed 54-year-old Bernard Bailey on May 2, 2011.
An Orangeburg County judge set Combs’ bail at $15,000 on a charge of misconduct in office, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
The lack of information about the shooting had long frustrated Eutawville residents, and Pascoe’s statements in court provided the first official account of what happened that May morning outside Town Hall. The solicitor said the incident played out this way:
One of Bailey’s daughters was issued a citation for a broken tail light in March 2011.
Bailey and Combs exchanged words over the ticket. Days later, Combs filed for an obstruction-of-justice warrant against Bailey.
The warrant was not immediately served, however. Instead, Combs attempted to place Bailey under arrest on May 2 when Bailey showed up at the municipal building with hopes of getting the ticket dismissed.
Bailey stalked off, and Combs chased after him as Bailey walked out of the building and got into his truck. Combs then jumped into the truck’s open door as Bailey started to back out of the parking lot.
Combs alleged that he felt threatened as he dangled from the moving vehicle, Pascoe said. Combs pulled out his pistol and shot Bailey dead. Bailey was shot twice in the chest and once in the shoulder. A round that pierced his chest was fired at point-blank range.
Combs stood handcuffed at Thursday’s hearing and spoke only through an attorney.
The 36-year-old remains unemployed since losing his position with the police department, Combs’ lawyer, John O’Leary said. He currently lives at a family home in Santee.
Combs’ 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 that it had closed its file on the shooting and declined to prosecute Combs.
Prosecutors and Combs’ attorneys agreed that Combs did not appear to be a flight risk. Pascoe added that the state would accept a low bail given that circumstance.
The $15,000 cash bail also included conditions that Combs can’t leave the state without court permission, can’t have direct or indirect conduct with Bailey’s family members or have any contact with any of the state’s witnesses except through his attorney.
Several of Bailey’s loved ones attended the hearing, including his older brother, the Rev. Kenneth Bailey, who spoke on behalf of the family.
“Bernard would have never done anything contrary to what our parents taught us,” Kenneth Bailey said before denouncing assertions that Combs wasn’t a danger to the community.
“He killed my brother and (Bailey) didn’t have a weapon on him,” Kenneth Bailey said.
After the hearing Kenneth Bailey speculated about whether his brother’s killing had a racial undertone, given that Combs was a white police officer and Bailey a black man.
“Our brother was a black man. There was no way (Combs) didn’t know that,” Kenneth Bailey said.
During the hearing, Pascoe dismissed the idea that the shooting was racially motivated. The U.S. Justice Department also investigated the case for potential civil rights violations but declined to pursue charges, authorities said.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.