York County’s only Black state legislator demanded an independent probe and sanctions -- possibly as severe as firing -- for Rock Hill Police Department officers shown punching two Black men during an arrest that was captured on a Facebook video and went viral.
The lawyer for the two men said the level of force used by the police was excessive and the officers should be held accountable.
S.C. Rep. John King, D-Rock Hill, and S.C. Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Colleton, who is the lawyer representing the two men, said the manner in which police handled the Black suspects Wednesday in Rock Hill demands action. A Facebook video of the arrest went viral and set off protests in the downtown area.
Rickey and Travis Price were arrested in the incident. A bond hearing was held Thursday at the Moss Justice Center in York, S.C. Bamberg, King, local civil rights leaders and members of the Price family held an impromptu news conference after the hearing.
Rickey Price appeared in court in a wheelchair and has a broken nose from the altercation, his lawyer said. He is charged with drugs and weapons violations after a traffic stop. Travis Price was charged with hindering police. Police say the brothers punched officers during the arrest, forcing the severe measures used to subdue them.
But local Black leaders said there was no justification for the degree of police force that was applied.
The video shows Rickey and Travis struggling with officers. At one point, police appear to be on top of Travis Price. He is seen on the ground with blood on his face, while the woman filming the video yells “Look at his face, y’all! Somebody help!”
King, who represents the 49th district, lives in Rock Hill and attended the hearing in support of the Price family. He said he wants an independent South Carolina police review, and possibly a federal review by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Rock Hill Police Department has said it is only doing an internal review.
“I’m letting you know that if they do not ask for it, I will call from my official capacity as a state legislator,” King said.
He said the need for a transparent review of actions he described as blatantly racist is required. He also said the officers involved should be suspended or fired.
“I’m calling for the city to do an independent investigation. I’m asking for the mayor to do his job, I’m asking the chief to do his job,” King said. “(Rickey Price) was denied bond. These officers are still working. That’s what I’m asking the chief for -- to stop them from working or fire them.
“This should not happen in Rock Hill, this should not happen in South Carolina, this should not happen in this country. As a Black man who has to drive my car in this district, I am afraid. Even with the legislative tag on, when a police officer stops me, I’m afraid. And that should not be what Black men and Black women feel when they get in their cars.”
Bamberg, whose father is a sheriff in South Carolina, said he understands law enforcement must arrest people.
“But there is no reason for the use of force we saw on that video,” Bamberg said. “The police don’t get to punish them in the arrest process. That’s not America.”
Bamberg said people of color in America repeatedly are the recipients of police force that is too severe.
“Time and time again, we have to see the police do this to people who look like us,” Bamberg said at the news conference. “Why? Well, we are going to find out why.”
Bamberg said law enforcement’s job is to protect and serve, not to hurt someone.
“How does someone who is innocent until proven guilty end up in a wheelchair with a broken nose?” Bamberg asked.
Bamberg and King said they support protests that started Wednesday night and are expected to continue, as long as the protests are peaceful.
“Protesting is the very spirit of America,” Bamberg said.
King said protests should continue until there is accountability.
“Not only is the family deserving of answers, the citizens of this community deserve answers,” King said.
Rickey Price was denied bond. Travis Price was given a $1,087 bond for a charge of hindering police.
Norma Gray, president of the Rock Hill NAACP, said at the news conference that the Rock Hill citizens review board has already taken action to investigate the incident. The review board, which was established last September, is meant to investigate whether police officers follow proper procedures in incidents such as this.
Gray spoke Wednesday to representatives from the Rock Hill Police Department, she said. “We vow this will be investigated to the fullest extent,” she said.