A teen selling palmetto roses in Charleston's City Market was arrested this week, generating strong reactions on social media and resurrecting a years-long debate over regulating the practice.
The arrest is the latest example of tension between youth who make and sell the roses, and city officials who have tried to regulate the practice for years.
According to a Charleston Police Department spokesman, an officer was patrolling the market area around 1:14 p.m. Monday when he saw two teens, aged about 16 or 17 years old, selling palmetto roses without a permit.
The Palmetto Artisan Program was created more than 10 years ago as a way to train, equip and supervise youth age 9 to 16 who wish to sell the roses. It was billed as a way to impose order on a practice that some had come to see as a nuisance. Others said it was a way to make sure sellers stayed safe.
Participating in the program is free of charge, and city officials said on Tuesday that open spots were available.
But efforts to get children and teens to abide by the rules have faltered for years.
Many operate independently, saying the city's program is too restrictive and that they can make more money on their own.
In this case, the two teens managed to evade the officer for weeks as they walked in and out of traffic to make sales, police said. When the officer approached on Monday, one of the teens tried to run away and the officer tried to detain him.
The two fought and fell to the ground, police said. The officer's body camera was knocked off his uniform.
Eventually, the teen ended up on top of the officer and several witnesses intervened, police said. The teen was charged with illegally selling palmetto roses and taken to juvenile detention pending release.
Both the officer and teen suffered small abrasions during the struggle, police said.
After the arrest, photographs surfaced and were quickly circulated on Facebook and Twitter. They appear to show a civilian holding the teen from behind. The man's arm appears to be wrapped around the teen's neck in what some commenters described as a "choke hold."
Many expressed outrage at the photographs and made comparisons to news reports from around the country where people have called police on black children and teens for activities like mowing grass.
Marvin Pendarvis, the teen's attorney and a S.C. State Representative for North Charleston, said the teen was released from juvenile detention as of early Tuesday night.
"We are continuing to investigate the matter," Pendarvis said. "It’s my understanding that there’s some conflicting testimony or statements. As we proceed further I want to make sure we do our best to represent this man."
The attorney addressed the official police report that stated the teen ended up on top of the officer.
"Currently we don’t know what happened before that or after," Pendarvis said. "We’ll continue to pursue the matter. We’re going to work on fighting these charges that are against him."
The attorney said he would continue to evaluate the case as new evidence comes to light.
According to police, the officer did not intend to arrest the teen. He planned to take him home, release him into a parent or guardian's custody and issue them a family court date.
Police Chief Luther Reynolds said that while the altercation and arrest were not what the department wanted, he believes the officer handled the situation appropriately.
"He didn’t chase these kids nor did he use excessive force in making the arrest," Reynolds said. "The young man made the unfortunate decision to resist the officer and this entire situation could have been completely avoided had he cooperated with the officer."
Police also noted they had received complaints about vandalism, assaults and disorderly behavior by palmetto rose peddlers.
Anyone with information or video of the incident is encouraged to call 843-743-7200 and ask for the on-duty Charleston Police Department central detective.