North Charleston hosts South Aiken

North Charleston's Eric Jenkins (11) chases a loose ball against South Aiken's Deion Williams (42).

MONCKS CORNER -- A Berkeley County sheriff's deputy used poor judgment by arguing with a handcuffed inmate inside the detention center last month, but he did not use excessive force when he slapped and punched the man after he spit in the deputy's face, an internal affairs investigation found.

Cpl. Robert W. Thomas used the necessary force to prevent the disorderly conduct suspect from spitting on him again, Maj. Ricky Driggers wrote in a Feb. 10 letter to Sheriff Wayne DeWitt and Chief Deputy Butch Henerey.

Thomas, who had been on administrative duty since the Jan. 20 incident, is back on duty after receiving a verbal reprimand for engaging the suspect in an argument, Driggers said Thursday.

The Sheriff's Office has charged Thomas Howard Simmons Jr., 44, of Moncks Corner with throwing bodily fluids at an officer in connection with the alleged spitting incident. He has been released on $15,000 bail.

Authorities said Thomas arrested Simmons on Jan. 20 on a disorderly conduct charge and took him to the Hill-Finklea Detention Center about 3 a.m.

A video released by the Sheriff's Office shows Simmons constantly talking at deputies inside the jail while one hand is cuffed to a metal bench. Driggers said the suspect was spewing profanities at Thomas and jail staff.

The video, which does not include audio, shows Thomas as he leans down and talks to the suspect. The men continue to talk back and forth until Simmons leans over and appears to spit in the deputy's face.

Thomas slapped Simmons in the face with an open hand and then punched him in the back of the head before holding his head down while more deputies secure him and take him to a cell.

Driggers said the jail captain brought the incident to his attention and that Simmons did not file a complaint against the deputy. The case was referred to the department's internal affairs, which found the deputy did not violate department policy.

Thomas was the department's Uniform Patrol Deputy of the Year in 2004.

Simmons has previous convictions for failure to stop for blue lights, criminal domestic violence, simple assault, public disorderly conduct, possession of crack cocaine and resisting arrest, according to a State Law Enforcement Division criminal history check.

Reach Andy Paras at 937-5589 or at andyparas.