Deputy facing assault charge Arrest stems from Nov. traffic stop

This screen capture from a video taken by a Charleston County Sheriff's Office dashboard camera shows a deputy preparing to strike a man being taken into custody. The full video shows several punches being delivered.

Deputy Christopher Davis collected a paycheck while agents investigated a traffic stop that involved him punching a man in the head six times.

Davis was paid for 57 days while on leave from the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, Maj. Jim Brady said. That stopped Friday when the State Law Enforcement Division arrested Davis on suspicion of the same misdemeanor he accused the motorist of in November: third-degree assault and battery.

Davis’ attorney has disputed the charge, saying Davis hit the driver in self-defense because the driver had grabbed him.

The 27-year-old, a deputy since April 2010, spent little time in jail. A magistrate held a special bond hearing for Davis, allowing him to post a $2,130 bail and leave the county detention center, where he once worked as a correctional officer.

Magistrate Linda Lombard said authorities, who escorted Davis in handcuffs, had swarmed her courtroom.

Davis’ in-person appearance was atypical, even for a law enforcement officer facing a criminal charge. Sheriff Al Cannon, who was arrested on the same count, and former North Charleston Sgt. Eddie Bullard, who was accused of concocting a story explaining his self-inflicted gunshot wound, each appeared by video conferencing.

The circumstances forced Lombard to start the hearing before the scheduled time of 10 a.m., she said. She vowed to never to do so again.

“The place was crawling with SLED agents,” Lombard said. “I just wanted to get it done expeditiously.”

The motorist, 19-year-old Devante Antwan Pittman, lost a tooth and needed reconstructive oral surgery after the Nov. 11 traffic stop, according to his attorney. It was the first arrest for the West Ashley High graduate.

Before working at the Cannon Detention Center, Davis was employed for nearly two years at the Dorchester County jail.

His attorney, Donald McCune of Charleston, said Davis has been a model officer without disciplinary issues. Davis cooperated with the SLED probe, McCune said, and was “disappointed and surprised” by its findings.

“In my opinion, the video shows a person who is resisting arrest in the car and resisting the commands of the officer outside the car,” McCune said. “We’re concerned about the chilling effect this might have on law enforcement officers in the Lowcountry.”

The Sheriff’s Office, Davis and two other deputies who participated in the stop in West Ashley remain the target of a civil lawsuit seeking damages for the pain and anguish a motorist said he suffered.

Responding to the civil complaint in federal court, the sheriff’s attorney, Sandra Senn of Charleston, and an attorney for Davis, Wade Cooper of Mount Pleasant, denied wrongdoing.

“The video will speak for itself,” Senn’s response stated.

Pittman has requested a jury trial in the case against him. But his attorney, Lionel Lofton of Daniel Island, said he expects the charge to be dismissed in light of Davis’ arrest.

“There is nothing that indicates he did anything they claim he did,” Lofton said. “The video is clear that he did everything to be obedient.”

An affidavit filed in support of the deputy’s arrest added no facts other than what is apparent in the video taken from his cruiser. It stated that Davis “unlawfully” punched Pittman “several times about the mouth, face and head.”

Pittman’s Dodge Charger had been pulled over because Davis said he turned from Savannah Highway onto Orleans Road, where he lives, without signaling. The video shows Davis standing at the driver’s side of the Dodge stopped outside the West Ashley Shoppes. At some point, Davis said Pittman grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the car, but that isn’t obvious in the video.

Pittman disputed that account. Instead, he said the deputy hit him with a flashlight without reason. Two other deputies helped Davis remove Pittman, who got snagged on his seat belt. His girlfriend was in the passenger seat.

Once Pittman is standing, the video shows Davis grab his head and punch him. Pittman falls, and the deputies handcuff him.

In his response to questions in the civil litigation, Davis’ attorney said Pittman’s arm had been “rearing back as if to assault the deputies,” so Davis used “a series of empty-hand control techniques” in self-defense.