Bystander video of Folly Beach police grappling with a man on a tourist-filled strand Sunday is racking up thousands of hits on YouTube and sparking debate about the lengths officers went to make an arrest.
The two-minute video, titled “Police doing wrong!?, Charleston, SC,” shows an officer straddling and pepper-spraying a struggling suspect as he tries to place the man in handcuffs. A large crowd surrounds them, shouting questions and taunts.
The man yells that he has done nothing wrong. “I am not fighting,” he shouts, as he continues to squirm. “I am not resisting.”
The video appears to have been shot with a camera phone. Another video is said to exist, but the man filming that footage was shot with a Taser stun gun and arrested after he reportedly became combative with a Charleston County sheriff’s deputy, authorities said.
The video that surfaced on YouTube had received more than 4,600 viewings since it was uploaded Monday. The video drew a mix of responses, with some viewers alleging police brutality and others commending the officers. Several people said police exercised remarkable restraint given the unruliness and close proximity of the crowd.
“The crowd you hear yelling is a bunch of drunken fools with no respect for the law,” wrote one viewer who claimed to have been on the beach that day.”I just hope Folly Beach hires ten more officers like these two!”
Folly Beach Public Safety Director Dennis Brown said as a matter of procedure his department is conducting an internal investigation into the use of force during the episode. The officers involved in the incident remain on duty, including Cpl. Ryland Reed, the officer seen struggling with the suspect in the video.
Brown said the episode lasted some 20 minutes, and he has called on the person who shot the YouTube video to release the entire footage out of fairness to everyone involved.
Brown would not release a written incident report on the episode, despite a requirement under state law to do so.
He initially said he would not release the report while the matter was under investigation. When reminded that the state Freedom of Information Act requires that police make all reports available for the past 14 days, Brown said the newspaper would get the report when he received an FOIA request.
A reporter then reminded Brown that the law specifically states that such requests are not necessary for reports completed during the 14-day period. Brown said this report could not be released because it had not been approved by a supervisor. But that too is no excuse under the law.
S.C. Press Association attorney Jay Bender said reports on the incident should have been available to the public as soon as they were prepared, whether they have the blessing of a supervisor or not. “If he wants to write ‘draft’ on it, he can do that to his heart’s content, but it is still a public record and must be available to the public.”
Brown did offer this verbal version of events:
Officers were called to the Tides hotel around 5 p.m. Sunday to check out reports of some men urinating in a sink, a trash can and on the floor of an exterior bathroom. The officer found the men and reminded them that Folly is a family beach and that unruly behavior will not be tolerated.
Two of the men initially complied with the warning; the third man did not.
That man cursed at the officer, ignored his warnings and refused to give his name when the officer tried to issue him a citation. The man also used a racial slur against the officer, who is black. He then struggled with police as the officer and a colleague tried to place him in handcuffs. A burst of pepper spray was used in subduing the man.
Authorities identified the man as Erik Torgusen, 31, of Charleston. Torgusen, who works as a bouncer, was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Sheriff’s deputies filed the same charges against his friend, Brett Ricker, a 28-year-old property manager who was shot with a Taser during the episode.
Deputies said Ricker refused commands to step back from the fracas while filming, cursed at officers and took “an aggressive fighting stance” against a deputy. A Folly Beach officer reportedly shot him with the Taser after he continued to be aggressive. That account was contained in an incident report the Sheriff’s Office released detailing its role in the episode.
Neither man could be reached for comment Wednesday. Ricker has no prior arrest record in South Carolina, and Torgusen’s record has just a few misdemeanor arrests, including a charge for disorderly conduct in Charleston last year.
Local criminal defense attorney David Aylor has viewed the tape several times but is not personally involved in the case. He said Torgusen is clearly seen on the tape struggling with the officer and pulling his arm away as officers try to handcuff him.
“To me, it looks like the officers were doing everything they could to properly detain him and put him under arrest,” Aylor said. “While he claimed to not be resisting arrest, ultimately, he was doing just that.”
It is less clear from the tape how events unfolded with Ricker, as the tape cuts out before the Taser is used, Aylor said. But one of the last images shows the man placing his hand on the deputy, which is always a mistake, he said.
Brown said he is glad the incident didn’t escalate beyond what happened, as tensions appeared to be running high. Deputies also noted that a large percentage of the crowd was highly intoxicated.
Brown said about 20,000 people were on the beach that day, vastly outnumbering the four public safety officers who were on patrol. Despite those odds, police plan to do everything in their power to make sure Folly Beach remains a family-oriented place where parents can bring their kids without fear of profanity, unruly people and drunken behavior, Brown said.
“We want to ensure that when people visit Folly Beach, they have a positive visit,” he said. “It is our job as public safety officers to ensure that their visit is not disrupted by boisterous, rowdy and unruly behavior and that you know your family is going to be safe.”
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.