Charles Green admits he has a problem with crack cocaine.
He admits he had crack on him the night of Jan. 17.
He admits he ran from police to avoid arrest and might have swallowed some of the crack while hiding it in his mouth.
But the 45-year-old Columbia man says he didn’t deserve to be stunned with a Taser gun multiple times, especially after he was handcuffed, by a Richland County sheriff’s deputy.
“I’m a human being,” Green told The State. “Don’t no one deserve that — a dog doesn’t deserve that.”
The 6-foot-tall, 225-pound Green contends the Taser shocks caused him to be hospitalized for two months for kidney failure, seizures, breathing problems and severe muscle weakness. In a report, one of Green’s doctors suspected nerve damage in his right leg was caused by the Taser shocks, as well as burns to his foot.
But according to Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and Green’s medical records provided to The State, his health problems stemmed mainly from swallowing cocaine before he was arrested.
Lott said Green, whom deputies apprehended near a suspected drug hangout, refused to spit out the crack and could have died had he swallowed all of it.
“We saved this man’s life,” the sheriff told The State.
Still, authorities are concerned about the possibility that the arresting officer, Tom Hodges, who Tasered Green at least six times, used excessive force.
The FBI launched an investigation after The State began examining the incident in August.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is reviewing the FBI’s evidence in the case, Brent Gray, the division’s deputy chief, confirmed last week.
Gray declined to discuss specifics of the case, as did Denise Taiste, spokeswoman for the FBI in South Carolina.
The investigation comes at a time when excessive force is an issue in South Carolina. The state Highway Patrol is under federal scrutiny for alleged use of excessive force. Two troopers have been indicted; one was acquitted earlier this month.
Also, a former Charleston County sheriff’s deputy was sentenced Friday to eight months in a federal halfway house and eight months of home detention after earlier pleading guilty to using excessive force by kicking a motorist in the head and neck while the man was lying handcuffed on the ground.
There’s no doubt Green’s case is the most serious Taser accusation the Richland County Sheriff’s Department has faced since beginning to use the weapons in 2004, Lott said.
Under federal law, police officers can be charged with using excessive force if their actions are “unreasonable” and result in “bodily injury,” including temporary physical pain.
Hodges was not disciplined in the incident and remains on the force.
Each time a Taser is fired, details of the shot are recorded. Tasers stun using an electrical current.
Taser records cited by Lott show Green was stunned six times — not seven as Green claims or five as reported in Hodges’ incident report. Two were after Green was handcuffed, according to the incident report; Green claims it was six times after he was cuffed.
Using Tasers on handcuffed suspects generally is not recommended under a model policy written by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
A national expert on excessive force told The State that Hodges didn’t follow accepted Taser standards, though a Taser instructor for South Carolina police trainers said it could have been justified in Green’s case.
Lott said a routine internal review of the incident found Hodges did not use excessive force. Hodges, 30, has worked for the department for four years and has no excessive force complaints in his personnel file, Lott said.
But the case was not referred initially to the department’s citizens review panel, which advises Lott on questionable incidents. Lott said in August he would have the committee review the incident; it’s scheduled to do so next month.
Although Green’s incident happened in January, Green wasn’t formally charged and booked until Aug. 8 — the day after The State newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the sheriff’s department for records on the case.
Green was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, possession of marijuana, resisting arrest and two counts of simple assault, according to arrest warrants.
He was freed the next day after his family posted bail.
Hospital officials didn’t notify the sheriff’s department when Green was released from in-patient treatment, and deputies assumed he was still hospitalized until the newspaper inquired about the case, Lott said.
“There is no conspiracy here,” Lott said.
Green’s lawyer, Hemphill Pride of Columbia, thinks, however, that Lott’s deputies didn’t follow proper procedures. Pride said he couldn’t persuade Lott to investigate the incident further, and Green is considering a lawsuit against the department.
“Society is judged by how they treat the least of us,” Pride said. “That’s how you judge law enforcement.”
Green, an 8th-grade dropout with three children, admits he has been on the wrong side of the law plenty of times in his life — particularly with drugs.
He had been arrested nine times by Columbia police, Richland County sheriff’s deputies or Cayce police since 1988, mainly on violent or drug-related charges, records show.
His convictions include possession with intent to distribute marijuana, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, possession with intent to distribute drugs near a school, disorderly conduct and interfering with police, records show.
Green said assault charges against him in 1988 and 1999 were dismissed; records don’t indicate an outcome in those cases.
He said before the January incident, he was working for a local tree-cutting company.
On the night of Jan. 17, Richland County deputies, who were doing surveillance on a nearby house, stopped the Pontiac Aztek SUV Green and a friend were in on Clairton Court, located near Monticello Road along Columbia’s northwest side.
Green told The State he had “about three rocks” of crack cocaine he was planning to smoke at a friend’s house near his home.
Green said he feared being arrested for having the cocaine on him — and for violating probation on an earlier drug charge — so he decided to flee on foot.
While being chased into a field, Green said he was hit in the back with the first Taser shot.
He immediately fell to the ground and was cuffed, he said. A deputy then put the stun gun directly on his lower back — below his “House of Pain” tattoo — and began firing it repeatedly for no apparent reason, Green said.
“I didn’t resist,” he recalled. “The second time, I passed out.”
Green’s older sister, Helen Green, who lives with him, told The State she heard the commotion from a nearby house and went outside to investigate.
“I was yelling, ‘Y’all gonna kill him; y’all gonna bust his head; y’all got him in handcuffs; leave him alone,’” she told The State, crying. “He was hollerin’ ... ‘Jesus, please make them stop.’”
Then, “he wasn’t moving,” she said. “I thought he was dead.”
‘JUSTIFIED’ USE OF FORCE
Hodges in his report said he had no choice but to use force against Green.
He wrote that after Green refused verbal commands to spit out what deputies believed were drugs, Green “displayed active aggression and bullrushed” him. He said Green then ran about 75 yards across a dark field.
Hodges said he fired his Taser the first time from about eight feet away after he announced he had the weapon but Green continued running. Green immediately dropped to the ground after the electrical probes on wires fired from the gun hit him in the shoulder and tailbone regions, Hodges said.
After Green refused to give him his hands to be cuffed, Hodges said, he “drive” stunned Green — meaning the weapon was placed directly on the skin —on the back and arm. Green then allowed himself to be cuffed, but after refusing more commands to spit out what was in his mouth, Hodges “drive” stunned him two more times, on the shoulder and abdomen, for a total of five times, the deputy said.
“Deputies could see him swallow a white rocklike substance,” Hodges said in his report, noting he “did not want Green to harm himself by swallowing more drugs than he already had.”
Green spit out a bag containing a “white rocklike substance” and later spit out another bag of the substance, which Hodges in his report noted weighed about 8 grams. He said he also collected “several small rocklike substances” that another deputy saw Green throw onto the ground, and found a small amount of marijuana on the floorboard of the SUV where Green had been sitting.
Later at the hospital, Green tested positive for cocaine in his system, Hodges said in his report, noting a “white rocklike substance” was retrieved while pumping his stomach.
“In this officer’s mind, he was trying to save his life,” Lott told The State. “My personal opinion was that it was justified.”
Those computerized records show the weapon was fired a total of six times starting at 10:47 p.m. and continuing through 11:01 p.m., Lott said.
Half of the shots lasted a total of seven seconds each; the other half, five seconds each, according to the records cited by Lott. There was about a 13-minute gap between the third and fourth shots, though the incident report doesn’t specifically mention it.
The department’s use-of-force guidelines say Tasers can be used in “defensive resistance” situations, such as fleeing, struggling to escape and “muscle tensing.” It does not specifically address situations in which suspects refuse to spit out drugs, though it notes that Tasers shouldn’t be used against “passively resistant subjects.”
Lott said he believes the use of Tasers to get a suspect to spit out suspected drugs is appropriate, explaining the other methods used in the past — such as hitting the suspect or sticking fingers in the suspect’s mouth — carry greater risks to both.
Lott said his records show that Tasers were fired by his deputies a total of 121 times in 2006, 143 times in 2007 and 76 times through August of this year.
Police experts disagree under what circumstances Tasers should be used.
Melvin Tucker, an ex-FBI agent and former police chief in Florida, Tennessee and North Carolina, and an expert on police procedures, told The State he thinks the Taser was misused in Green’s case.
“I have never once seen any manufacturer recommend or train police officers to use a Taser to (force a suspect) to spit out a drug,” said Tucker, a police and security consultant who is not involved in the case.
Tucker said Hodges violated procedures recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police by using the Taser more than three times against Hodges and shocking him while he was handcuffed.
Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Taser International, which manufactures the Taser guns used by Richland County, declined to answer specific questions about Green’s case.
“There have been thousands of documented cases in which multiple applications from the Taser system were not only appropriate but were absolutely critical to a safe outcome of the situation,” he said in a prepared statement.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police recommends Tasers not be used on handcuffed suspects, “absent overtly assaultive behavior that cannot be reasonably dealt with in any other less intrusive fashion.”
A policy paper by the organization also states that people experiencing severe cocaine reactions are among those at highest risk for sudden death, and using stun guns could increase the chances.
Randy Creamer, a Williamston police officer and master Taser instructor for other police trainers in South Carolina, said Hodges could have been justified, particularly if the deputy was trying to keep Green from swallowing cocaine.
“Once we put that person in custody, we’re pretty much responsible for keeping that person alive,” he said.
Green, who now walks with a limp and says he can’t lift more than 10 pounds with one of his arms, contends deputies didn’t really care about his well-being.
“If I would have died, they would have swept it under the rug as a drug overdose,” he said.