A 29-year-old man was drunk and cursing outside a Folly Beach bar Saturday morning when an officer walked up from behind and tried to arrest him, according to the policeman’s account.
What happened next has prompted a dispute about whether Cpl. Ryland Reed needed to jolt the man with a Taser. It was the second time Reed’s tactics in arresting a drunken man have come under public scrutiny.
Answering calls about a fight outside Surf Bar, Reed said he identified himself as a police officer as he approached Jacob Fletcher Cowan. When Reed tried handcuffing the man, Cowan pulled away and put up his hands as if to fight.
But to Cowan, a Marine Corps veteran who said he had never been arrested, Reed did not identify himself before grabbing him. Turning to see who had laid hands on him was a natural response, he said.
That’s when a prong from the Taser buried in his neck.
“I don’t think that was called for,” said Cowan, a resident of West Hudson Street. “I would never square up on a police officer.”
He recovered after treatment at Medical University Hospital. But he disputed a police report stating that he acknowledged taunting officers. Cowan was a hand-to-hand combat instructor in the Marines and has post-traumatic stress disorder, the report also stated.
Reed was criticized in April 2012 after his arrest of a man on the beach behind The Tides hotel was caught on YouTube. The man was struck with pepper spray as a large crowd gathered and jeered.
Public Safety Chief Dennis Brown defended Reed’s actions in the recent episode. The officer had few options, the chief said, when Cowan resisted arrest and assumed a fighting stance.
“We didn’t arrest the wrong person,” Brown said. “He was out in the street being drunk and disorderly. We want people to have a good time, but they have to abide by the rules.”
Cowan was jailed on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. It was his first arrest in South Carolina. He previously had only one traffic ticket to his name, he said.
Cowan declined to discuss the incident in detail because, he said, he wants to evaluate his options with an attorney.
The situation, according to the authorities, unfolded at 2 a.m. when three officers were called to the West Cooper Avenue bar.
A large group of people milled in the street when they arrived. Most quickly left, but two men continued being “extremely loud and boisterous,” Reed reported. Another officer warned Cowan to stop, but he grew more irate, Reed said.
“Come get me, (expletives),” Cowan told the police, according to Reed’s report. “(Expletive) you and your uniforms.”
Reed figured that the man was looking for a fight. But he hadn’t been in Cowan’s immediate area when he heard the comments, and he walked over to Cowan, his report stated.
“Stop, police,” Reed said he yelled.
Reed reported that Cowan looked back and became “fully aware” of the officer behind him. But each time Reed tried grabbing the suspect’s wrists, he reported, Cowan jerked away and avoided the handcuffs. Cowan eventually took an “aggressive fighting stance,” Reed stated.
“I began to fear for my safety,” Reed wrote. “It became apparent that I was not going to ... effect the arrest without force.”
Reed aimed his Taser at the man’s chest, but because Cowan was moving, one prong from the stun gun struck his chest and the other hit his neck, the police officer explained.
Cowan insisted that he never had a chance to square up and fight the larger officer.
“I turned around in a hurry,” Cowan said. “But I wouldn’t attack a police officer. That’s horrible.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.