COTTAGEVILLE -- A town hall meeting that saw more jeers and clapping than a crass act in a comedy club ended without resolving a contentious question: Should Cottageville get rid of its police department?
The discussion Monday evening gained traction in the wake of the May 16 shooting death of former Mayor Bert Reeves at the hands of town police officer Randy Price.
The shooting remains an active case with the State Law Enforcement Division and the FBI. The chief prosecutor asked for a federal grand jury investigation into the incident.
Town Councilman George Addison pushed to dissolve the police department and to turn over jurisdiction to the Colleton County Sheriff's Office, initially as a way to save money but now to help balance power in the town.
Residents gathered Monday at the second standing-room-only meeting in as many months. They sat divided by an aisle -- those that wanted to keep the police department and those seeking to get rid of it -- lobbing insults at each other throughout the discussion.
Bobby Teal pointed out that the town's bank, two stores and pawnshop would become vulnerable without a dedicated town police force.
"Who is going to protect these businesses if the person you call is 11 miles away?" he said. "You're going to have murder. You're going to have robberies. You're going to have open season for everything."
Tracy Yocum, who collected signatures on a petition to keep the police department, said officer Price responded to a break-in at her home.
Someone shouted, "He's a murderer!" as others called for that person to leave the room.
After one woman said someone made a verbal threat, Colleton County Sheriff George Malone stepped to the microphone and warned the crowd:
"We don't take a side on this one way or another," he said. "We've got officers here. If someone needs to be transported out of here tonight, we are here."
One woman recalled how town police officers watched over her home while her husband served in Afghanistan. Another woman said the same officers harass her and her children. Yet another woman said she relies on Cottageville police after Colleton deputies took too long to save her from a brutal beating and then failed to locate the suspect.
The town police department consists of three full-time officers, including Price, and three part-time officers.
Price, who remains on administrative leave, had cycled through eight jobs in 11 years and garnered a work history with multiple firings, allegations of misconduct and brutality claims.
Addison, the council member who led Monday's police department discussion, said the matter now would likely go to a referendum where residents can decide by voting.
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594.