Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said Friday he's not worried that the arrest of a tourist for violating the city's open-container law will keep others from visiting the city.
Reached while on vacation, Riley said he backs a police officer's decision to take tourist Ted Zellman to jail Wednesday after he saw the Coral Gables, Fla., resident walking with an open bottle of Red Stripe beer inside a brown paper bag on Rutledge Avenue.
"He made a judgment call in a circumstance he thought was appropriate, and I support that," Riley said.
Zellman told The Post and Courier that taking him to jail instead of issuing him a warning or a fine was excessive. He spent nine hours at the jail before he was freed on $262 bail.
Some readers agreed with the retired commodities trader, expressing their outrage in messages at postandcourier.com, through e-mails and via phone calls. They argued that the arrest was disproportional and inappropriate in a city that thrives on tourism.
Others joined Riley in defending the officer's decision, arguing that Zellman knew he was breaking the law and shouldn't be given special treatment because he's not from here.
Riley said the officer is assigned to the mostly residential neighborhood where the arrest was made and had to weigh Zellman's situation with that of residents who have complained about widespread public drinking and bottles littering the street.
"We certainly don't want a law that arrests locals for something and no one else," Riley said. "We want to be a city where we arrest people evenly."
Riley acknowledged that it was a complicated situation, but in the end, he trusts the officer's judgment.
"What you had was a person in a substantially residential neighborhood where residents were concerned about something and the officer was doing something to react to their concerns," he said. "I am not at all concerned it will keep visitors away."
Many of those who disagreed with the officer's decision told the newspaper they intended to write or call the police department and mayor's office. As of Friday afternoon, Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen had received about six phone calls, while the mayor's office received about the same number of calls or e-mails, officials said.