A Goose Creek police officer has resigned after a shoplifting suspect filed a complaint over how he was treated at Wal-Mart.
Officer Raymond Richards, a Marine Corps veteran, had been with the department since 2008 and had no other serious complaints in his file, according to city records.
Edward Matthew Saunders, 52, of Hanahan said Richards hurt his neck while he was in handcuffs and then refused to take him to a hospital after he said he needed medical help. His complaint led to an Internal Affairs investigation. Richards was cleared of excessive use of force but reprimanded for failure to render aid and several other procedural violations.
Wal-Mart’s security camera recorded the video, and Johnson’s body camera recorded the audio. The Post and Courier got copies of the Dec. 30 investigative report after a Freedom of Information Act request.
It all started the night of Nov. 28 when a security officer at the Wal-Mart on St. James Avenue said he watched Saunders empty a paper-shredder box, stuff it with clothes and other items and tape it shut. Goose Creek police officers said they arrived to find a clear roll of packing tape in Saunders’ cart, along with the box containing a pair of pants, T-shirts, boxer shorts, an alarm clock, and a hair curler and styling iron.
Richards and Officer Nicholas Johnson took Saunders in handcuffs into a tiny office for questioning. He told them he was buying the box and was not shoplifting. He later told The Post and Courier he initially planned to steal the items but was putting the box back on the shelf when he was arrested.
“I don’t know why I did it,” he said in a phone interview. “I came to my senses.”
He said in any case he shouldn’t have been charged with shoplifting because he wasn’t trying to take the box out of the store.
While searching Saunders, officers found four 10 mg methadone hydrochloride tablets and three 1 mg clonazepam tablets in a bag in a pants pocket. They reminded him it’s illegal to carry the pills outside the prescription bottles and charged him with possession of a controlled substance. Saunders is also trying to get that charge dismissed.
Saunders was seated in a metal chair but became animated and stood up. Richards ordered him to sit down, he refused, and Richards forced him back down by pushing on his shoulders and then wrapping an arm around his neck when he resisted.
The departmental review concluded that Richards’ use of force was justified. But he was cited for not reporting it as a use of force.
After Saunders was seated, Richards turned his back on him, and Saunders stood up again. Richards was later cited for violating safety protocol by exposing his weapon to a combative subject.
Saunders eventually sat back down, loudly complaining about his neck, threatening to sue and demanding medical attention. Richards said Saunders “must be a damn woman” if that kind of handling hurt him, but he promised to take him to a hospital.
Richards told his superiors he didn’t take Saunders to a hospital because he was confident the medical staff at the jail would make that determination. His supervisors said he should have taken Saunders to the hospital and cited Richards for failure to render aid. Saunders said no medical staff evaluated him at the jail.
Richards was also cited for conduct unbecoming to an officer for calling Saunders a woman.
Saunders was released from jail on a $50,000 personal recognizance bond on the possession charge. He retained attorney Blair Jennings to fight the charges.
Saunders also wants Goose Creek to pay for treating his neck pain after the encounter. Jennings said Friday he’s still reviewing the evidence and the treatment.
Goose Creek was Richards’ first law-enforcement job. His file contains two complaints for failure to show up in court and one for hitting a parked car while answering a call. The file also includes several commendations, including possibly saving the life of a man whose leg was seriously bleeding after a fight.
His resignation became effective Dec. 28.
“My decision is based solely on providing a better life for my children in the future,” he said in the Dec. 14 letter.
Reach Dave Munday at 843-937-5553.