Reeves complained about police harassment

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

COTTAGEVILLE — A month before he was shot dead by a police officer, former Mayor Bert Reeves told an attorney friend that he feared a town cop was out to do him harm.

Columbia attorney Peter Protopapas said Reeves complained the officer was harassing him, pulling over Reeves and his friends 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’ May 16 death at the hands of officer Randy Price. Price fatally shot Reeves during a confrontation on a dirt road near Town Hall, authorities have said.

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 just that, he said.

Police Chief John Craddock has said Reeves complained to him about a month ago about Price 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 Price cited the worker in March after the man was caught noisily riding a motorcycle up and down the main drag and “acting crazy.” Another officer also was present during the incident, but Reeves seemed to direct his anger at Price, he said.

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

Mayor Margaret Steen declined to comment today when asked if she also had been approached by Reeves, who was her nephew. She said she had 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.

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, who is representing Reeves’ family, said they knew Reeves well and 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 an aggressive, 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.

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