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Columbia police fire officer after report that he used force repeatedly in 5-month span

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Officer Sean Rollins (2021_2_18 copy)

Columbia Police Officer Sean Rollins (second from right) fires bean-bag rounds at a crowd of protesters during a demonstration against police brutality on May 31, 2020. The department contended he was targeting a man "aggressively approaching officers," though video showed the man at one point on his knees with his hands up. File/Sean Rayford/Special to The Post and Courier 

COLUMBIA — Columbia police fired Officer Sean Rollins after he used force on suspects at a rate that was far higher than the rest of the department, including a controversial shooting and another violent incident involving a handcuffed woman.

The firing by Chief Skip Holbrook follows reporting by The Post and Courier revealing the officer struck, forcibly subdued or used his stun gun on no fewer than eight people over five months. Columbia officers average less than one use-of-force case in a year.

Rollins' string of incidents started not long after the three-year officer shot 30-year-old grocery worker Sir Brandon Legette in the back of the head in 2019 during a scuffle after a traffic stop over an illegal vehicle tag and suspended license.

Marc Brown, a lawyer for Legette, said the news of Rollins' firing should come as a relief. 

"The citizens of Columbia are much safer without him patrolling the streets," Brown said. "I only wish the city of Columbia would have terminated him sooner."

Rollins, 26, joined the force in 2018. A lawyer for Rollins, Columbia attorney David Morrison, didn't return phone and email messages left Feb. 18.

Legette's shooting prompted a federal lawsuit against the department, and calls for Rollins’ firing during last summer’s demonstrations against police brutality.

At one of those demonstrations in May, Rollins fired bean-bag rounds at a crowd outside the Statehouse. The department said he was targeting a bystander "aggressively approaching officers," though video showed the man at one point on his knees with his hands up.

Holbrook said during the course of the newspaper’s reporting that he had reassigned Rollins in July, taking him off the street. The chief didn't say why he now, seven months later, has taken additional action. 

"On February 17, 2021, Sean Rollins was terminated for Unsatisfactory Performance after an internal review," the department said in a one-sentence statement shared by spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons.

In the department’s initial internal reviews of Rollins’ incidents, supervisors cleared him in every case. They said the officer’s use of force was necessary to subdue unruly suspects, or those who resisted arrest.

But those decisions, and other details of Rollins’ actions, were not made public until The Post and Courier’s report last week , after the newspaper reviewed body cam footage and more than 180 pages of police reports.

Less than three months after prosecutors cleared Rollins in the 2019 shooting, Rollins used a jawline grip to subdue a handcuffed woman, The Post and Courier revealed. Immediately, she struck her head inside a transport van, which she later said knocked her unconscious.

Less than two weeks later, Rollins tackled a 55-year-old woman in her living room, bloodying her nose and cutting her face. She had tried entering another room where “many items were present and were readily available as weapons,” Rollins wrote in his report.

Holbrook said he reassigned Rollins after the department completed its review of his actions at the demonstration but not before the officer used force in an eighth incident in early June. Body cam footage the newspaper obtained from that incident shows Rollins grabbed a man off a residential porch and scuffled with him and several others before he used his stun gun on the man twice.

Rollins was called because of a family fight, and the man had asked the officer to leave.

Follow Joseph Cranney on Twitter @joey_cranney.

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