Rock Hill Police Lt. Tony Breeden, with the four hash marks on his sleeve signifying 20-plus years wearing a badge, walked into the courthouse in York all alone Tuesday.
A few other cops hailed him in a building filled with badges as Breeden reached the second floor.
“Breeden!” called out a deputy.
“Boys!” Breeden called back.
But the police lieutenant was by himself. No chief of police, no captains, no handlers, nobody. Just like he is on the streets of Rock Hill every day, and has been for almost 25 years of patrol and narcotics duty and more. And just like he was on a cold night in November when a felon tried to run him over with a car.
No different than months before that, in March 2015, when another felon shot at him during a chase.
Tony Breeden has been shot at, spit on, fought with, bloodied. He has comforted gunshot victims and their families. He has helped teens mauled in fights and found gangbangers hiding in closets armed with enough guns to fight in Iraq. He has not quit.
He didn’t quit last year, when at a Rock Hill gas station he approached an idling white Cadillac with no one in it at the pumps. The rap music was blasting, with lyrics of “mother-@#$%^&’s,” and all that the singer hated about cops and everybody else.
Breeden found the driver and told him the music was too loud, and that he couldn’t leave the car running. The driver furtively avoided the driver door like the driver side was on fire. Breeden smelled alcohol and asked the guy if he had anything to drink.
“Not really,” said the driver.
“Not really?” asked Breeden.
His cop antennae by this time was full blast. He radioed in to tell dispatch he was out with a white Cadillac, and where. The driver finally got in on the car’s driver side. Breeden looked in the open door and saw a plastic bag filled with white powder that he believed was cocaine.
“What’s in the baggie?” Breeden asked the driver.
There was no more talk.
The driver threw the car in drive and pulled forward, smashing Breeden’s patrol car. Then he backed up, and Breeden opened the door to try to collar the guy. He ordered him to get out, but the Cadillac door smashed Breeden and knocked the officer into a pillar.
The driver fled. Breeden gave chase but was cut off by a truck. The Cadillac was gone.
The scene at the gas pump was all caught on police car dash cam video. The driver fled and was not caught for more than a week, and then he was in Charlotte.
On Tuesday, the driver – Jeremy Jackson, 24, who has been in jail since his arrest – was set to be sentenced after pleading guilty late Monday to assault and battery and failure to stop for blue lights.
He pleaded under what is called an Alford plea – accepting punishment without admitting guilt by acknowledging that he likely would be convicted at trial.
That dash cam video was played. Jackson’s head was right under the screen as it played in court. Breeden spoke briefly. He asked for nothing. He just said what happened. He watched himself in that video getting smashed into a pillar.
“I probably would have been under the car,” Breeden said. “In almost 25 years doing this, this was the first time I thought I was going to get hurt or worse.”
The prosecutor – tough as a two-dollar steak – named Austin Newman, told Judge Dan Hall that Jackson, the defendant who has convictions dating back to childhood for breaking and entering, guns, larceny, financial card fraud and more, made a choice of getting caught with enough cocaine to catch 25 years in prison, or hit the cop with the car for a crime that carries far less.
The assault only carries five years.
“We ask that you do not reward him,” Newman told Judge Hall.
Jackson, who had no license and hadn’t even registered the Cadillac, said nothing about his choice that night to try to run over a cop when he allegedly – according to Breeden – had a bag of white powder in the car that Breeden believed from years of drug work to be cocaine.
Many people spoke for Jackson, stating in court that he was a good father, a good person who made a “stupid choice.” One person even said Jackson was “so nice, he would pump gas for you at the gas station.”
Jackson’s lawyer, Zach Merritt, told the judge that Jackson made a stupid decision but that he was only trying to flee, not hurt the officer, and even said that prosecutors “overcharged” Jackson with the assault.
Jackson offered no explanation himself.
Hall, the judge, asked Jackson about prison.
“What’s the longest time you spent in the Department of Corrections?” Hall asked Jackson.
“Twenty-seven months,” said Jackson.
Hall sentenced Jackson to five years in prison – the maximum penalty for the assault charge. The failure to stop was three years concurrent.
Jackson was led off to prison.
Tony Breeden, the cop, stood up. He hitched up his belt that carries his gun and his handcuffs and the other tools of his trade, and walked out of the courtroom and then out of the courthouse. He had to go back to patrolling the streets. He had to go back to helping people.
He walked out and drove away.
Tony Breeden cop, left as he arrived and works. All alone.