Opinion

Trooper trial verdict

The acquittal of a state trooper who was videotaped running into a fleeing suspect with his patrol car is likely to be viewed with skepticism by many observers. Nonethe-less, the hands of S.C. Department of Public Safety director Mark Keel are tied regarding any further discipline of the trooper.

This case is somewhat unusual because the incident has been viewed by thousands on the Internet. People can watch the events unfold and judge for themselves what was going on and whether Trooper Steven Garren, who is white, intentionally ran into Marvin Grant, who is black and who was fleeing on foot.

Garren also is recorded at the scene telling fellow officers that he intended to hit the suspect. At the trial, however, he testified that his remarks were "dumb, stupid," that he couldn't avoid a collision because the suspect suddenly cut in front of his patrol car.

Convincing or not, a mostly white jury acquitted Garren of charges of violating Grant's civil rights. Had Garren been convicted, he could have received 10 years in federal prison, though he more likely would have faced around 2 years under federal sentencing guidelines.

Garren now is entitled to return to work on the Highway Patrol. Keel said that any further attempt to discipline Garren again -- he was suspended for two days by Keel's predecessor -- could result in a civil lawsuit.

It is dismaying that Garren is back on the job. Even if his actions did not warrant a prison sentence, they at least were unprofessional and deserving of more than a slap on the wrist.

Nonetheless, it is evident that Keel intends to tighten discipline in the ranks and ensure that incidents such as this are not repeated. He stands by a pledge to fire any trooper who does something similar in the future.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin McDonald said last week that this verdict will not affect plans to go forward with another civil rights case against another indicted trooper, John Sawyer, for repeatedly kicking a dump truck driver in the head after a long chase. He, like Garren, was caught on tape.

But whatever the results of these trials, we hope state officials are dedicated to weeding out the miscreants in a force consisting mostly of dedicated troopers who do their jobs with skill each day. Former DPS director James Schweitzer and Highway Patrol commander Col. Russell Roark both lost their jobs for failing to control the malignancy within the department.

By all appearances, the new administration is determined not to repeat that mistake.

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