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Chief: Rock Hill's resisting police law OK

Rock Hill Police say the city's resisting police law, which has been called unconstitutional and a tool for targeting minorities, plays an integral role in reducing crime.

Police Chief John Gregory said his officers are applying the ordinance properly to prevent, reduce and solve crimes.

"It's incident driven. It's not just us trying to grab people off the street," Gregory said. "We use the ordinance for the right purposes. There were drugs, guns, wanted people and people interfering with police in most of the cases.

"There's some sort of crime that drove those arrests; it's not police trying to target African-Americans."

But the head of Rock Hill's NAACP claims police are using the law to unfairly arrest black men for either walking down the street or not answering when police order them to "stop."

"Their only crime is being black," Poole told Rock Hill City Council earlier this month. "This has got to stop."

Statistics released last week show that more than 75 percent of the people charged with resisting police in the last 12 months are black. Of the 130 people arrested during the period, 99 were African American.

More than 70 percent of people cited for resisting police in the last year also were charged with another crime at the same time. Those include drug and alcohol crimes, assaults, disorderly conduct, harassment, traffic offenses and shoplifting.

In his presentation to the City Council, Poole said the resisting police ordinance has "created overzealous officers" who, intent on improving their arrest records, charge young black men who can simply be walking down the street.

"He made it sound like we arrested someone for walking down the street or not answering us," Gregory said. "There's companion charges on the majority of cases. If there wasn't, we'd be reviewing how our officers used this charge."

"Really, no one was targeted and singled out. There's no indication that we arbitrarily picked out these people to arrest."

Repeal the law

Poole has prompted the ACLU to investigate. In a letter sent to the city's attorney, the ACLU has asked Rock Hill to repeal the resisting police ordinance, a law its opponents claim violates citizens' First and Fourth amendment rights.

Susan Dunn, legal director for South Carolina's ACLU, said the group believes the law isn't fixable. No response to the letter has been made public.

The resisting police ordinance was approved by City Council in 2001. The law says: "No person shall oppose, resist or interfere with any police officer in the discharge of the police officer's official duties."

The charge, which is a misdemeanor, is often used instead of resisting arrest, which is a felony, said Rock Hill Police Lt. Brad Redfearn. A person can be charged with resisting arrest if he either eludes an officer who has probable cause to arrest him or threatens or uses force against an officer.

Officers use the resisting police charge when someone runs away or doesn't cooperate when an officer needs to ask a question before a suspect is placed under arrest, Gregory said. Police often use the ordinance to stop trespassing suspects or to get identification from people hanging out in neighborhoods with a history of illegal drug activity.

"This ordinance gives a little more authority to detain people and request their cooperation in ascertaining who they are. It gives the officer latitude to address that situation," Gregory said.

The ordinance allows police to make an arrest when someone doesn't cooperate or makes an issue of the officer asking for information.

Police offered this potential scenario: Someone calls police to say a man is selling drugs on a street. The caller tells officers what the person is wearing. Police will go to that location, see the possible suspect and approach him. That's when he drops the drugs and runs.

After officers catch him and find the drugs, the suspect could face a resisting police charge for running when an officer said stop.

High-crime areas

The highest density of resisting police arrests happen in the city's Weed and Seed communities, which are flagged drug and crime neighborhoods that police patrol heavily. Those neighborhoods are primarily African-American. Nearly 25 percent of the resisting police arrests happened in those communities.

During the five years police have put an emphasis on those communities - Hagins-Fewell, Sunset Park, Crawford Road, Flint Hill, and South Central - crime has reduced about 25 percent, according to police data. Federal grant money allows police to prevent, control, and reduce violent crime, drug abuse, and gang activity in those neighborhoods.

Other clusters of resisting police charges are apartment complexes where police see rashes of crime: Heather Heights, Stone Haven and complexes on Patriot Parkway near Interstate 77.

Officers police those areas to address the crime spikes, and that's where the resisting police law is critical, Gregory said. Crime happens in a high percentage of minority neighborhoods.

Challenged before

The resisting police law was first challenged in May 2010 by B.J. Barrowclough, deputy public defender for York County. He argued portions of the ordinance violate a resident's First and Fourth Amendment rights. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits infringing on the freedom of speech and assembly; the Fourth Amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Barrowclough suggested the law could be improved by simply inserting the word "physically," such as physically oppose, physically resist and physically interfere.

Prosecutors with Rock Hill dismissed the 2010 case. At that time, Assistant Solicitor Paula Knox Brown said the law needed to be rewritten to be clear and fair for law enforcement and residents. No change has been made in the year since.

During his presentation to the City Council earlier this month, Poole threatened legal action. Poole said he is disappointed action hasn't been taken.

"They're acting like they don't care if the law is being misused or not. You'd think with the concerns brought up last year and the concerns I brought up, you'd see something change. It's a city that has a motto of 'No Room For Racism.' They need to do something about it."

He proposed a civilian review commission that could investigate complaints against police, all in an effort to "better the relationship between the community and police."

Gregory said Poole's depiction of officers' behavior and arrest results differ from the feedback his department has received in the community.

With crime numbers trending down, Gregory said, the majority of the community is pleased with police in the city.

Kimberly Dick 803-329-4082

Here's a look at the resisting police citations written in Rock Hill during the last 12 months.

Suspects:

Black males: 93

Black females: 6

White males: 26

White females: 5

By age:

17 to 20: 32

21 to 30: 56

31 to 40: 24

Older than 40:18

Other charges:

Suspects only charged with resisting police: 34

Charged with other offenses: 96

Black offenders on solo charge: 29

White offenders on solo charge: 5

Police reports

Here's a look at some of the incidents where no other charges were filed:

On July 26 at 9:12 p.m., an 18-year-old black man was charged with resisting police after a large fight in the parking at the Executive Inn. When police arrived, the man ran from the Anderson Road motel. He was charged with resisting police.

On June 3 at 3:38 p.m., a 19-year-old black man was charged with resisting police after officers saw a man walking in the middle of Stroupe Street talking on a cell phone. When he noticed the unmarked police car, he ran to a house and knocked on the door. Officers ordered him to stop, and he fled. He was found getting into a car on Ogden Street and charged.

On Dec. 27 at 8:45 a.m., a 27-year-old black man was charged with resisting police after he wouldn't answer police officers' questions about what he was doing while he drawing on a sign-in sheet of the Rock Hill Animal Hospital. Officers knew the man had a pistol, but he refused to say whether he had the gun and kept his hands in his pockets.

On Nov. 24 at 7:52 p.m., a 17-year-old black man was charged with resisting police while officers were patrolling a Crawford Road store parking lot for trespassers. The teen ran when police approached him, despite their yelling "stop, police." Officers found the teen in a nearby apartment. He said he ran because he was on parole.

On Oct. 19 at 7 p.m., a 27-year-old black man was charged with resisting police after he ran into a crime scene after a shooting near Taylor Street. Police first told him the area was blocked off, but the man ran into the crime area anyway.

SOURCE: Rock Hill police data

Total number of citations written. Some suspects have multiple offenses.

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