COLUMBIA -- A state trooper seen on video hitting a fleeing suspect on foot with his patrol car at a Columbia apartment complex has been offered the chance to complete a program that would clear him of his federal civil rights charge.
Alexander Richardson will be allowed to apply to a pre-trial diversion program as early as next week, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin McDonald said Friday.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Columbia and the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division in Washington approved the defense request this week, McDonald said.
"After looking at all of the facts and circumstances, we decided that pre-trial diversion would be an appropriate resolution of this case," he said. "We believe he used poor judgment and excessive force in apprehending this suspect, but we don't believe he intended to run over this individual."
Last month, McDonald and Richardson's attorney said they had expected Richardson to plead guilty to the civil rights charge. McDonald said Friday he didn't think putting Richardson into a pre-trial diversion program was the "equivalent of getting off scot-free."
Richardson was charged with a misdemeanor civil rights charge because the fleeing suspect, Kevin Rucker, wasn't injured when hit by the trooper's patrol car on April 28, 2007, at Columbia Garden Apartments on Plowden Road, McDonald said earlier.
If Richardson successfully completes the U.S. Probation Office program, which typically lasts about 18 months, his misdemeanor charge will be dropped, McDonald said.
Richardson's attorney, John O'Leary of Columbia, said Friday that putting his client into a pre-trial diversion program is the "fair thing to do."
"I think the trial was winnable, but this ends all the (excessive force) cases that are out there," he said.
McDonald earlier said he didn't expect any more state troopers would be charged out of the cases his office had reviewed since last year.
The State newspaper last year under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act obtained more than two dozen dashboard videos and hundreds of pages of internal affairs records revealing questionable behavior by some troopers.
Besides Richardson, two other troopers -- Steve Garren and John Sawyer -- were charged with federal civil rights violations, though their charges were higher-level felonies. Garren was acquitted in a jury trial in October, while Sawyer awaits sentencing after pleading guilty last month.
If convicted of his misdemeanor charge, Richardson would have faced a maximum sentence of one year in federal prison and a $100,000 fine.
S.C. Department of Public Safety spokesman Sid Gaulden said Friday that Richardson remains on unpaid suspension, though O'Leary and McDonald said they were informed he had been fired.
As a likely condition of the program, Richardson won't be allowed to work in law enforcement during the program, but if he successfully completes it and his charge is dropped, he could return to police work, McDonald said.
He likely will be required to perform community service, which could include "addressing students and perhaps other law enforcement agencies about his experience," McDonald said.
A dashboard video obtained last year by The State shows Rucker being hit by Richardson's patrol car at the Plowden Road apartment complex off South Beltline Boulevard, driving over sidewalks and curbs.