Winthrop officer under investigation

The State Law Enforcement Division is investigating the May 4 arrest of a Rock Hill man who complained a Winthrop University police officer used excessive force, according to SLED and Winthrop officials.

Winthrop requested the investigation as a third-party review after receiving the complaint, said Rebecca Masters, a university spokeswoman.

Winthrop Police Chief Frank Zebedis said the SLED investigation -- the first in his nine-year tenure at Winthrop -- centers around an incident involving Kendrick V. Alston, 37, of 1107 Dorchester St. in Rock Hill.

A Winthrop police incident report says Alston began fighting with the officer. But Alston and two witnesses say the officer assaulted Alston.

Alston was arrested in a shopping center parking lot near the intersection of Cherry Road and Richmond Drive on a charge of driving with a suspended license, according to a Winthrop police incident report.

The report states Winthrop officer Dewayne Bunch, 32, recognized Alston, who is not a Winthrop student, from a previous encounter and believed he was driving illegally. The report states Alston pulled into the center's parking lot, and Bunch arrested him and put him in the back of the patrol car.

After calling a tow truck to pick up Alston's vehicle, Bunch opened the door of the police car to ask Alston a question, and Alston began fighting with the officer, tearing his uniform shirt, according to the report. The report states after the suspect calmed down, two Rock Hill Police Department officers arrived and followed Bunch to the Rock Hill jail.

At the intersection of Cherry Road and Richmond Drive, Alston began kicking the back glass window of the police car, forcing Bunch to pull over, according to a Rock Hill Police Department report. All three officers tied Alston's legs together and he was transported to the jail without any more problems, the report states.

The Winthrop report says Alston was charged with driving under suspension, resisting arrest and damage to property. Alston also was wanted by the York County Sheriff's Office for failure to appear in court on a previous resisting arrest charge.

Alston, currently at the York County Detention Center on a $50,000 bond, recalls a contrasting account of the incident. In a letter to The Herald, Alston contends Bunch, unprovoked, hit him repeatedly immediately following the arrest in the parking lot.

Alston states that on the way to the jail, Bunch pulled off the road, used a piece of rope from the trunk to tie his feet together and beat him again, causing injuries to his knee and cracking two ribs.

"Once the officer cuffed me and put me in the car, he went crazy," Alston wrote. "He beat me very bad and a lot of people were looking. He didn't care."

The incident report did not list any injuries to Alston during the altercation.

Shanita Williams, 36, an assistant manager at Dollar General in the shopping center, said she saw the incident from a storefront window. She said Alston, a regular customer at her store, was walking across the parking lot when the Winthrop officer ran up behind him and placed him under arrest.

Williams said Alston appeared to cooperate and peacefully sat down in the back of the police car. That's when the attack started, she said.

"I noticed the officer's hand going up and down and I said, 'Y'all, it looks like he's beating him,'" Williams said. "Everyone came to the front of the store. There were a lot of witnesses."

Williams, who said she has since been interviewed by SLED and Winthrop police officials, said she went outside the store and yelled at the officer, who stopped hitting Alston.

She said officers from the Rock Hill Police Department escorted the Winthrop car out of the parking lot, turning right onto Richmond Drive. But both vehicles pulled over and the Winthrop officer confronted Alston a second time, Williams said.

"He jumped out of his car again and continued to beat him," she said.

Williams said she doesn't know what conversation may have taken place between Alston and the officer, but said Alston appeared to be peaceful and respectful during the arrest.

"He was more calm than I would have been," she said.

Valerie Slusser, who is employed with Pet Pros in the same shopping center, said she was on her way to get a drink from a neighboring store when she noticed the man being put in the police car.

"He was being punched in the chest area," said Slusser, who added she has been questioned by authorities. "He was not being resistant that I could see. He was yelling to us, 'Someone help me. Do you see what he's doing?'" she recalled. "There were people with phones taking pictures."

She got her drink, but the incident stayed with her.

"As he pulled out (of the area) with the guy in the car, he got out and it looked like he appeared to be wrestling with the man again," Slusser said. "Why would an officer just up and hit anyone? If the man was not resisting arrest, there was no reason for the officer to put his hands on the man in the aggressive manner that he did."

Alston had a lengthy arrest history before the May 4 incident. According to a SLED criminal history report, Alston has been arrested multiple times since 1991 for charges including driving under the influence and petty larceny. In 1998, he was arrested by Winthrop police on a driving with a suspended license charge, according to the SLED report.

In 2005, he was charged in Winnsboro with failure to comply with an officer's directions, and in 2006 was convicted for resisting arrest.

Zebedis, the Winthrop police chief, said no disciplinary actions have been taken. No action would be taken until after a review of the SLED findings.

"If it comes back that there was a violation, then we'll take immediate and appropriate action," Zebedis said. "Right now, there's no need to do that."

Winthrop officials declined to comment further on the incident until after SLED findings are reviewed.

Bunch has been employed as a Winthrop law enforcement officer since 2001 without any disciplinary actions at the school, Masters said. He is currently on active duty, she said.