Winthrop officer cleared in assault case

A Winthrop University police officer accused of assaulting a suspect during a May arrest was cleared Thursday of any wrongdoing, said deputy solicitor Willie Thompson.

Rock Hill resident Kendrick Alston, who is not a Winthrop student, accused Officer Dwayne Bunch of using excessive force when he arrested Alston on May 4 on a charge of driving with a suspended driver's license near the intersection of Cherry Road and Richmond Drive.

After complaining to authorities after the arrest, Alston, 37, wrote a letter to The Herald in which he accused Bunch of severely beating him, causing injuries to his knee and ribs.

In a police report, Bunch, 32, stated he used force to subdue Alston, who physically resisted the initial arrest and on the way to the police station tried to kick Bunch and the windows in his patrol car.

Winthrop officials requested the State Law Enforcement Division conduct an outside investigation of the incident and pass results to the 16th Circuit solicitor's office.

After reviewing SLED's findings, Thompson said Bunch did use force to secure Alston, but that he acted legally and appropriately.

"He actually showed restraint," Thompson said. "He was well within the limit of the law. He probably could have used more force."

Thompson said according to the SLED investigation, Bunch, who made the traffic stop alone, had to use physical force to get Alston into the police car after Alston repeatedly refused to comply. When assisting officers from the Rock Hill Police Department arrived, Alston calmed down, Thompson said.

While traveling to the police station, Alston began threatening Bunch and tried to kick the windows of the police car, Thompson said. After pulling off the road, Bunch tried to shackle Alston's legs to the floor of the car, Thompson said, but was forced to strike his legs with a baton when Alston began kicking Bunch in the chest.

Thompson said an in-car video camera recorded audio of the entire incident. SLED officials also compiled evidence from eyewitnesses and statements from Bunch and Alston.

Thompson said the solicitor's office found contradictions in Alston's claims and that medical records do not support his accusations. Eyewitnesses said they saw Bunch punching Alston, but Thompson said they only had a partial view from inside nearby stores. He said it would have been impossible to see exactly what happened inside the vehicle from the storefront. He said Alston never complained of being punched.

"There were too many contradictions," Thompson said, noting Alston changed his account of the incident during several interviews with investigators. "It's obvious Mr. Alston was trying to make a scene."

SLED records show Alston has a lengthy criminal record including larceny, driving under suspension and resisting arrest.

Winthrop Police Chief Frank Zebedis said Bunch is working a normal schedule at Winthrop after working "selective" shifts during the investigation. Zebedis said Bunch, at Winthrop since 2001, was never suspended and has a clean record with the school.

"This shows our system works, and obviously, we're glad to have him back working on a normal schedule," Zebedis said.

Bunch and Alston could not be reached for comment.

Thompson said the solicitor's office will move forward with charging Alston with driving under a suspended license and resisting arrest.