The parents of a North Charleston teenager have alleged in a lawsuit that a police officer used excessive force two years ago when the lawman shot their son as he lay wounded on the ground.
Their account contradicts authorities' interpretation of a video that they said shows Carlton Lamont Pringle pointing a pistol at the policeman.
Pringle was shot March 25, 2012, after Pfc. Anthony Dipaolo, who was responding to reports of gunfire, tried to stop him on Gaynor Avenue because his hairstyle fit a suspect's description.
A surveillance camera depicted Pringle start to run, then turn. Pringle appeared to drop something when he fell injured to the pavement. Dipaolo kicked away what the police later said was a 9 mm Hi-Point pistol.
Filed March 21 in Charleston County, the lawsuit contends that the video "clearly shows" Pringle "never pointed anything at anyone." It alleged that Dipaolo continued to shoot Pringle in the back as the officer hovered over him.
"Just because you have a gun doesn't mean (the police) can shoot you," said Robert Phillips, the Rock Hill attorney for Pringle's parents. "It's when you point it at a police officer that it becomes criminal."
North Charleston Police Department spokesman Spencer Pryor declined to comment Thursday because the legal matter is pending, and he deferred questions to the State Law Enforcement Division. Dipaolo now is working as a detective, Pryor said.
The suit asks for money to cover medical bills that Carlton Pringle Sr. and Dominique Chisholm incurred after their son was shot. It seeks punitive damages for alleged violations of constitutional provisions against unreasonable searches and excessive force.
Pringle, now 19, is expected to be tried April 7 on charges of unlawfully carrying and possessing a firearm, pointing a firearm and resisting arrest with a deadly weapon. He is free on bail.
His attorney in the criminal case, Gregory Keith of Charleston, could not be reached, and 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson was not available for comment.
The litigation offers an alternate narrative for the confrontation between Pringle and Dipaolo.
The officer was one of many who responded that day to shots fired in the nearby Ferndale community. Nobody was wounded, but residents called 911 and described some of the people they saw running away. One of them had dreadlocks, a caller said.
Dipaolo reported that he saw Pringle and someone else fleeing from the neighborhood. Pringle's hair was braided.
When the young men saw the officer, he reported, they turned around.
The lawsuit, though, stated that the duo was walking toward the community when Dipaolo pulled up. They were singled out by an officer "upon merely seeing two black males," the suit alleged.
Dipaolo yelled and went after the suspects while firing a Taser, so Pringle and his friend "instinctively began to run for their lives," the suit stated.
After Pringle turned toward Dipaolo, .45-caliber bullets brought him down. The officer shot Pringle again in the back while Dipaolo was "quite literally hovering over" him, the court document stated.
About six bullets struck him.
When Dipaolo pulled the trigger isn't clear from the footage. The video has no sound, and the camera's distance from the action makes it difficult for viewers to notice any recoil if Dipaolo fired when Pringle was on the ground.
Phillips said witnesses told SLED agents that they saw Pringle get shot as he lay on the pavement.
"If you pull out a gun and point it at a police officer, you ... deserve to get shot," the attorney said. "We don't believe the video shows that he pointed that weapon at anybody."
Pringle's parents portrayed him at the time as a well-behaved choirboy. Photographs later surfaced on Facebook showing Pringle holding a Hi-Point pistol.
His parents' lawsuit, though, alleges a conspiracy and a "code of silence." It pointed out that Dipaolo had hired an attorney. Such a move is common in officer-involved shootings.
Dipaolo later wrote a statement for SLED that said nothing about Pringle pointing a gun, Phillips said. Given after the video was made public, Dipaolo's new account contradicted his initial report, the attorney added.
Citing a failure to examine "clear and obvious inconsistencies" in Dipaolo's account, the suit placed some blame on Police Chief Eddie Driggers, though Jon Zumalt was the chief then.
"These defendants have an unwritten policy to simply 'look the other way and are ... deliberately indifferent to the past and current improper behavior of NCPD officers," the suit stated.
But in past instances of police misconduct, such as when Sgt. Eddie Bullard shot himself and blamed it on a shadowy nighttime assailant, Zumalt touted his department's quick response in opening investigations and suspending officers if they found wrongdoing.
The police force has stood by Dipaolo, an employee since October 2007. He has since acquired credentials to train younger officers in the field.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.