Walter Vaughan Davidson describes himself as a “gadfly,” and his willingness to persistently take issue with the city of Charleston and other public jurisdictions probably qualifies him for that self-appointed, if often irritating, role.
According to reporter Glenn Smith's story on Wednesday, Mr. Davidson has peppered city officials with emails related to “everything from budget audits and cruise ships to the Taliban and atomic bombs.”
Add to that list his treatment by city police on disorderly conduct charges.
City officials may be dismissive of Mr. Davidson's views about the state of the world in general.
But that attitude shouldn't extend to the manner in which police arrested Mr. Davidson in April 2009 for disorderly conduct, after a complaint that he verbally abused a neighbor.
Indeed, one police supervisor who reviewed the record recommended that the three officers in question be suspended for unlawfully entering Mr. Davidson's home and arresting him without probable cause. According to that report, they searched for Mr. Davidson with guns drawn and handcuffed him while placing him under arrest.
Even though findings of impropriety were rejected by Maj. Jerome Taylor, he acknowledged that police “could have handled the situation in a more controlled and measured way” — for example, by issuing him a ticket.
Eventually that charge against Mr. Davidson was dismissed, and the state Insurance Reserve Fund paid him $50,000 to settle his lawsuit for wrongful arrest.
But the city apparently takes the position that the fault somehow lies with Mr. Davidson.
City Attorney Sandy Senn told our reporter that police will not continue to spend time and resources investigating “baseless complaints” related to a subsequent arrest by the police in a municipal courtroom — again for disorderly conduct.
While the settlement may have encouraged him to pursue that matter, the city wants him to know “our generosity has screeched to a halt,” Ms. Senn said.
She dismissed Mr. Davidson's emails as “rambling nonsense,” and expressed the hope that a judge would issue a court order to block them “if his abuse continues.”
Still, it's not illegal to be a gadfly in this country. Sometimes a gadfly will bring to light problems within government that aren't apparent to the complacent.
For example, local resident David Coe raised substantive questions about the extent to which yachts moored within the county's jurisdiction weren't being taxed. One wealthy boat owner alone paid a tax bill of $280,130 as a result of Mr. Coe's persistence on the topic. (Mr. Coe's campaign against the county auditor's office apparently drew sparks on Thursday, as today's front-page story reports.)
Mr. Davidson's legal challenge to the city revealed a heavy-handed arrest of a private citizen in his home — on a comparatively minor charge that was later dismissed.
It recalls the June 2010 overreaction by city police to an inoffensive tourist who was carted off to jail for drinking a beer from a container covered in a paper bag while he was walking on a city street.
That, too, was a case the police could easily have handled with a ticket.
Such incidents shouldn't be treated dismissively by the powers that be.
They should be cause for reflection by the city, its elected officials and its residents regarding the proper use of police powers.