Charges dropped against Rock Hill scooter salesman who rescued 9 from river

adys@heraldonline.comOctober 3, 2013 

Stanley Smith, the Rock Hill scooter salesman who rescued nine people from the swollen Catawba River in July, is $282 poorer.

But Smith is no longer an accused criminal.

And he is no longer banned from a public park.

Smith was thrown in jail after he was arrested for allegedly soliciting business without a license at Riverwalk near the U.S. 21 bridge – the same place where he had saved rafters during early July flooding.

On Tuesday, city prosecutors dropped the criminal charge that carries up to a month in jail upon conviction.

“It wasn’t fair; I’ve lived here all my life,” Smith said of getting jailed. “They could have gave me a (personal recognizance) bond. They didn’t have to charge me. I’m not a threat.

“I’m a threat – to fish.”

Smith said he told officers dispatched to the scene July 23 that he was just fishing and that his scooters were in the truck bed, but he wasn’t selling them. He admitted to “guerilla marketing” of his services through his signs on his truck, and the scooters were sure right there in the truck; but he denied selling scooters that day.

Smith even admitted that authorities gave him a warning a couple weeks before the incident about his scooters there at Riverwalk. He had chained them to a pipe sculpture near the parking area.

But Rock Hill police said they had received complaints about Smith from several people over several days.

They said Smith was trying to sell scooters that day without a city business license.

In the police incident report, officers wrote that Smith told them he had a city business license but then acknowledged he didn’t have one when an officer said he would check city records.

Smith said he never told police he had a city license.

“I told him I had a state license, that I live in the county and sell from my house,” Smith said. “I guess he misunderstood me.”

Instead of giving Smith a ticket and sending him home, officers decided to put Smith in jail. He had to pay a $470 bond to get out and $125 to get his truck back after it was towed and impounded.

Despite police cars having video cameras and officers being wired with microphones, city officials said there is no videotape or audiotape of the incident.

Officers said it was not the first time they had talked to Smith about his actions at the trail. They said Smith was “argumentative” and “not cooperative,” so they chose to arrest him rather than ticket him, said Mark Bollinger, a spokesman for the Rock Hill Police Department.

The decision to make an “in-custody arrest” is up to the officers, Bollinger said.

After he got out of jail in July, Smith paid $157 to get a city business license.

When he was released on bond, the judge told him he could not go back to Riverwalk until the case was resolved.

Some in York County – including the people Smith rescued from the river – were outraged that he had been locked up.

“At least they dropped the charges,” said Phil Plumadore, one of the people Smith rescued July 6. “But it seems like he never should have been arrested.”

Plumadore and members of his family had been caught in rushing water when Smith waded into the Catawba River to pull them out. In all, Smith rescued nine people, including two children, according to a Rock Hill Fire Department report.

The case was set for trial this week, but city solicitor Chris Barton told Smith’s lawyer he would drop the charges because Smith had obtained a city business license.

In the past decade, Barton has served three tours with the S.C. Army National Guard in Iraq and Afghanistan. He knows the difference between an allegation of violence and an allegation of a license violation, where the biggest threat to anybody might be a paper cut.

Smith did not have any criminal record except traffic incidents from more than two decades ago, Barton said.

“This is a good resolution,” Barton said of the dismissal.

Smith’s lawyer, 16th Circuit Assistant Public Defender Judah VanSyckel, agreed.

“While it’s frightening that the Rock Hill police imprisoned a man for a business license violation,” VanSyckel said, “it is gratifying that my client was able to have these charges resolved in a favorable manner in cooperation with the Rock Hill City Solicitor’s Office.”

Smith will get the $470 in bond money back, but he will not get the $125 tow fee back.

At least he can go to Riverwalk park and fish at the river there.

On Wednesday, Smith went back to Riverwalk for the first time in three months.

He rode his scooter – but he didn’t try to sell any and made sure anybody who saw him knew that he was not selling scooters.

“I’m happy it was dropped,” Smith said. “It was a ridiculous thing to begin with. I was just down here fishing.”

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

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