Lawyer: Bert Reeves felt harassed

Former Cottageville mayor Bert Reeves, seen in a 2006 file photo.

COTTAGEVILLE -- A month before a police officer shot him dead, former Mayor Bert Reeves called a lawyer friend and said something that now seems chilling: He feared a town cop wanted to hurt him.

Columbia attorney Peter Protopapas said Reeves complained that the officer was harassing him, pulling Reeves and his friends over with no cause and following them around.

"He conveyed to me that he had a problem with Cottageville police and one officer in particular. He felt this one officer had it out for him and had it out for his friends," Protopapas said. "He was concerned the officer was out to harm him."

Protopapas declined to name the officer in question until he meets with State Law Enforcement Division agents who are investigating Reeves' death May 16 at the hands of officer Randy Price. The veteran officer fatally shot Reeves during a confrontation on a dirt road near Town Hall, authorities have said.

SLED officials declined to discuss Protopapas' comments as their investigation into Reeves' death continues.

Protopapas said Reeves expressed his concerns about town police during a phone call in which the two were catching up on each other's lives. The attorney said he told Reeves to stay away from the officer and urged him to file a complaint with the town's mayor and police chief. Reeves agreed to do that, Protopapas said.

Cottageville Police Chief John Craddock has said that Reeves complained to him about a month ago that Price was being too aggressive. In particular, Reeves was upset about Price arresting one of Reeves' employees in a drinking-related incident, he said.

Craddock has said that Price cited the worker in March after the man was caught noisily riding a motorcycle back and forth on the main drag and "acting crazy." Another officer also was present during the incident, but Reeves seemed to direct his anger at Price, Craddock said.

The town has three full-time officers and three part-timers, according to Craddock.

Price, who remains on paid administrative leave, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Current Mayor Margaret Steen declined to comment Wednesday when asked if she also had been approached by Reeves, who was her nephew. She said she has been instructed by SLED to remain mum on anything related to the shooting.

"I am not making any comment whatsoever on anything related to this," she said.

Steen called police hours after her nephew's death about a machete she discovered in her front yard. Her property line ends where her nephew's business began.

Craddock confirmed that Steen complained about the machete, but he said a SLED investigator answered the call with a Cottageville officer and that the officer did not take a report. SLED officials declined to discuss that incident as well, citing the ongoing investigation.

It remains unclear how Price and Reeves ended up together on Nut Hatch Lane on the afternoon of May 16. Price radioed for backup around 4 p.m. that day. When Craddock arrived, he found Reeves on the ground with a gunshot wound to the chest. Price was nearby with cuts and bruises from an apparent struggle.

Protopapas and Mullins McLeod, an attorney representing Reeves' family, said they knew Reeves well and that he would not have sought out a confrontation with a police officer.

"It's beyond me to believe that Bert Reeves, unarmed, tried to take on a police officer. That doesn't make sense," Protopapas said. "To me, this is a very unfortunate and suspicious situation."

Price, 40, came to Cottageville in May 2008 after cycling through eight jobs in 11 years. His work history includes multiple firings, allegations of misconduct and brutality claims.

Price has long insisted he was the victim of small-town politics and vendettas waged by municipal officials who got angry when he arrested their friends, relatives or neighbors.

Price is known around this small town as a no-nonsense officer who has piled up a number of drug arrests. Some in town applaud his initiative while others find his style out of step with such a quiet, rural community.

Reeves also had been a controversial figure in Cottageville. He ran for mayor in an attempt to broaden the town's tax base and end its reputation as a speed trap. Ironically, his tenure was marred by his own driving problems.

He twice was cited for speeding in 2006, once for driving 103 mph in a 55-mph zone. That case attracted national attention.

Some residents called for his resignation, but he ignored them.

In July 2006, he received a brain injury when he flipped his truck. He returned to his town duties after treatment, but many residents felt he was never quite the same after the wreck.

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556. Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594.