Amid an ongoing State Law Enforcement Division investigation into the death of a DUI suspect in Charleston police custody last summer, authorities took the rare step Tuesday of releasing body camera footage related to the case.
Nathaniel Rhodes, 58, was injured in a two-vehicle crash Aug, 12, 2018, in downtown Charleston. Rhodes suffered at least eight broken ribs and a lacerated liver. He was being treated in an ambulance when officers arrived at the crash site, signed him out of medical treatment and brought him to a booking facility to take a blood alcohol level test. When they arrived, Rhodes collapsed and was later taken to a hospital.
He died four days later.
Rhodes' death has prompted questions over whether Charleston Police Officer Paul Kelly and others involved in the case acted properly, or whether their actions hastened his demise. At the crash scene, Kelly asked Rhodes to step out of the ambulance in order to complete field sobriety tests after officers found an open alcohol container in his vehicle, authorities have said.
Kelly, who has been placed on administrative leave, also signed a document refusing medical treatment for Rhodes, signing his own name in a space designated for "patient or guardian."
Rhodes did not sign the form. Additionally, Charleston County officials on Tuesday evening said that two paramedics who helped treat Rhodes before he was taken to the hospital have also been placed on paid administrative leave pending a review. They have not been publicly identified.
In the first body camera video, Kelly and another officer stand above Rhodes, who is lying on the ground outside of a law enforcement facility.
Rhodes' hands are cuffed behind his back.
"Sixty-year-old black male, breathing is normal," Kelly said into his radio. "He just fell down and doesn't wanna get back up."
"I can't walk right now. I'm hot," Rhodes responds to the officers. "And tired."
"There's air conditioning right in there," Kelly states. "You've just got to walk with us to get there, sir."
He and another officer hoist Rhodes to his feet before leading him into the room where they prepare him for the blood alcohol level test, the video shows.
But the test was never completed.
He was taken to Medical University Hospital after emergency medical services personnel arrived.
In a second body camera video, Rhodes is lying injured in a hospital bed while Kelly goes through some paperwork.
"This has been a ridiculous week for DUI," the officer said. "This guy makes three for me."
Kelly continues to speak to Rhodes who appears unresponsive to his voice, according to the footage. The officer also told Rhodes that the blood-alcohol analysis was not conclusive because it ended before the analysis could be concluded, when Rhodes was taken to the hospital.
After stating the charges against him, the officer asks Rhodes to sign a document.
"I can't sign," Rhodes said, weakly.
This footage comes one day after police department leaders acknowledged that other body camera footage was improperly labeled and deleted after a 30-day holding period.
Out of four clips associated with the Rhodes case, two were erroneously deleted, including footage that would have shown Rhodes' field sobriety tests and interactions with officers at the crash scene.
Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds said he is already taking steps to better preserve body camera footage in the future.
Videos will now be kept for 180 days, Reynolds said. Officers will also be retrained on proper procedures.
Charleston attorney Justin Bamberg, who is representing the Rhodes family in possible legal action against the city, lambasted the police department in a news conference on Tuesday, alleging that officers prioritized building a criminal case against Rhodes instead of his well-being.
In response to Bamberg's allegations, Reynolds criticized his department's handling of the matter and vowed a swift audit on the agency's body camera program.
As questions regarding the incident continue to develop, Andy Savage, an attorney representing Kelly, said he has deep concerns about only one side of the story being reported.
There are many unanswered questions left regarding what happened, Savage said. It is important that those questions be answered so that the truth can come out.
Reynolds said he is also committed to finding the truth and making whatever changes necessary so that an incident like Rhodes' death does not occur again.
The chief said he has faith that SLED will conduct a thorough and independent investigation.
"I have a lot of questions," Reynolds said. "I don't have all the answers. We want to get this right and make changes as necessary."