A jury awarded the family of the former Cottageville mayor who was fatally shot by a police officer $97.5 million Wednesday night.
Randall Price, an officer with a questionable record, shot Bert Reeves in the chest during an argument May 16, 2011. Reeves' family claimed negligence and filed a wrongful-death suit against the town, the police department and Price.
The Charleston trial in U.S. District Court lasted nine days. The jury deliberated four hours before reaching a verdict.
"All Bert ever wanted to do was to provide for his kids, and he did that today," the family's attorney, Mullins McLeod, said after the verdict. "In most lawsuits one party has the long end of the stick and the other party has the short end of the stick. In this case, the Reeves family had a branch and the town and Randall Price didn't have as much as a splinter."
The award includes $7.5 million actual damages, $60 million punitive damages against the town and $30 million punitive damages against Price.
During closing arguments, Reeves' family cried when attorneys read an Instagram post from his 12-year-old daughter published on his most recent birthday. She recalled crawling into his arms as a child while her father sang to her. And described him as her "rock" and the "best father a girl could ever ask for." The daughter and her younger brother did not attend court Wednesday.
McLeod told the jury Price shot Reeves on a dusty dirt road near Town Hall because the ex-mayor raised concerns about the officer's "aggressive behavior."
Price was hired in Cottageville in 2008 following a string of terminations across the state for insubordination, dangerous use of firearms, and other alleged acts of misconduct.
His history landed him in The Post and Courier's 2005 series "Tarnished Badges," which described how officers with problem pasts continue to find work, aided by police who protect their own and departments desperate for experienced, certified officers.
"We're here because the town made a conscious decision to hire an aggressive cop," McLeod told the jury. "They were indifferent to what their real mission should have been, to preserve and protect."
Cottageville is a small town between Summerville and Walterboro in Colleton County, widely known for its speeding tickets.
The town's officials ignored Price's tactics and focused instead on the large amount of revenue he generated, McLeod argued. Price brought in more than $600,000 in tickets from 2008 to 2011, more than any other officer at the department, he said.
Reeves wanted Price gone, McLeod said, and Price retaliated. "You certainly should be able to complain about a cop without fear of being killed," McLeod told the jury.
Lake Summers, an attorney for Price, argued that Reeves suffered from bipolar disorder and was enraged when he encountered the officer. Price shot Reeves out of self-defense, Summers said. He did not immediately reply to man email requesting comment after the verdict.
Price did not return to law enforcement after the shooting. He avoided testifying in the trial by invoking his Fifth Amendment rights. Statements he provided to the State Law Enforcement Division, however, indicated he feared for his life when Reeves threw "wild" punches at him on the dirt road.
"We have an assault on a police officer that was unprovoked. ... Nothing negates Randy's right to self-defense," Summers argued. "In the end, what we have here is a reasonable, but tragic, situation."
The city has several weeks to decide whether to appeal.
Dave Munday contributed to this story. Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.