The post was a sort of preview for a forthcoming series here at The Watch about police abuse in South Carolina. Today, here’s another preview. This one is about another illegal stop and another unconstitutional search for drugs. It includes a beating, a false arrest and illegal medical procedures performed on a suspect against his will. The motorist was Kelvin Hayes, the owner of a floor and tiling company in Dorchester County, S.C.
The stop occurred at about 1:20 a.m. on March 27, 2011. Hayes, 52 at the time, and his friend Karen Skipper, 45, were driving to Skipper’s home in Summerville, S.C. Hayes is black. Skipper is white. On their way home, they passed a traffic stop involving multiple police cars. As they passed, Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Tim Knight left the scene of that stop in his marked SUV and began to follow them. Knight was a K-9 officer and had a dog in the back of his vehicle. As Hayes approached the intersection of Maple Road and West Richardson Avenue in Dorchester County, he turned on his right turn signal, stopped and made his turn. Knight followed. Knight waited until Hayes made a another turn before activating his lights and pulling Hayes over. Knight later said he often followed motorists to see whether they showed signs of impaired driving. Hayes stopped immediately.
Knight approached Hayes’s van on the passenger side. He asked for identification from both Hayes and Skipper, even though Skipper, as the passenger, wasn’t obligated to provide it. Knight later said in a deposition that he asks for ID from all occupants in the vehicles he stops so that he can check for outstanding warrants. Knight then asked Hayes to get out and meet him behind the van, just to the right of the dashboard camera. Hayes did so.
As you can see in this video, Knight then tells Hayes that he had activated his turn signal too late. South Carolina law requires motorists to put on the turn signal at least 100 feet from the intersection. Knight tells Hayes that his signal came on less than 20 feet from the sign. But Knight’s own dashboard camera clearly shows otherwise. An expert witness for the defense later determined, based on landmarks in the video, that Hayes’s signal came on at 117 feet. Not only did Hayes apparently not break the law, rendering the entire stop illegal, but Knight’s estimate was off by a factor of five. Even though he had done nothing wrong, Hayes still apologized for not signaling sooner.
Knight then began to ask Hayes about Skipper, where they had been and where they were going. Those are pretty standard questions, although Hayes was under no obligation to answer them. But Knight also asked Hayes about the nature of his relationship with Skipper. He asked whether Knight knew her full name and the age of her son, and asked detailed questions about the party they had just attended. He then asked Skipper a similar line of questions. He later said in a deposition that he wanted to know what the relationship was between the two. Knight also claimed that Hayes was shaking when he handed Knight his driver’s license and registration, although as a federal magistrate would later point out in a report on the incident, there’s no evidence in the video of any shaking.
Through all of this, Hayes was polite and respectful and obeyed Knight’s instructions. Knight also asked both Hayes and Skipper whether they had any drugs, weapons or any other illegal items in the car. Both repeatedly not only said no but also volunteered their permission for Knight to search the vehicle — again, even though they would have been well within their rights to refuse. Knight not only didn’t search the vehicle but also didn’t even bring his drug dog out to sniff.
It’s at about the 1:29:00 mark in the video that things begin to deteriorate. Knight asks Hayes whether he can search his person. Hayes understandably objects. He asks whether Knight plans to give him a ticket. Knight says, “I don’t know.” Hayes responds that he doesn’t see why he needs to be searched if he isn’t getting a ticket. At this point, Hayes has been out of his vehicle for several minutes, has not appeared angry or threatening and has completely complied with Knight’s instructions. But his objection to being searched appears to irritate Knight. A few seconds later, Knight asks Hayes whether he has a mint in his mouth. Hayes says he does.
Knight would later testify that at this point in the stop, he believed Hayes was engaged in some sort of criminal activity. From the video, it’s hard to fathom how. Knight later claimed he saw a plastic baggie in Knight’s mouth, though that isn’t at all apparent in the video. Knight then demands that Hayes open his mouth so he can inspect it. Hayes again asks whether he’s getting a ticket and objects to Knight searching his mouth. At that point, a clearly agitated Knight says, “You take that out of your mouth right now or I will choke you out.” He then grabs Hayes by the lapels of his shirt and says again: “I will choke you out right now. Take that out your mouth.”
Within a couple of seconds, Knight throws Hayes to the hood of the vehicle, out of view of the camera. Hayes says, “What’s the problem, officer?” and then there’s only audio of a scuffle, with Knight repeatedly telling Hayes to put his hands behind his back and Hayes crying out in pain. Knight then shows up in the video holding his flashlight and Hayes’s hat. He puts Hayes’s hat on the hood, then begins searching around the vehicle (presumably for the baggie of drugs he thought Hayes was hiding). Hayes comes back into the frame about five minutes later wearing handcuffs, his head bloodied. At some point during the scuffle, Deputy Keith Hunt had arrived as backup. Hayes alleges that Hunt then held him down while Knight hit him. Hunt later said that he restrained Hayes so that Knight could get him in handcuffs.
Hayes claims he never resisted Knight, except to protect himself from the blows Knight was delivering to his face and body. Knight, who weighed about 270 pounds, claimed he had to strike Hayes, who weighed about 140, because at various points Hayes had hit him, was able to free his hands and twice tried to escape. Hunt emerged from the scuffle with blood on his face (apparently Hayes’s, though possibly from a cut lip), Knight with a scraped knuckle. Knight placed Hayes under arrest and told him that he would be charged with felony assault on a police officer. EMS technicians arrived on the scene to inspect the officers. Hayes refused treatment.
Knight later claimed to have found a copper pipe in Hayes’s van. But oddly, the pipe was never tested or photographed, and it’s never seen in the video. Even after Hayes was formally charged, the pipe was never produced.
Hunt then put Hayes into his patrol car and informed him that he’d be taking Hayes to a hospital. When they arrived, Hunt told the hospital staff to take Hayes’s blood to test for HIV, hepatitis and cocaine. He also demanded that the hospital take an X-ray of Hayes’ stomach to check for a package of drugs. Hayes objected to any medical procedures.
Under South Carolina law, medical personnel can forcibly draw blood to test for HIV and hepatitis B, but only if the person has been convicted of a sex crime or has exposed others to bodily fluids during the commission of a crime. Even then, the procedure requires formal charges, a motion, an opportunity to challenge that motion and a court order. None of that happened here. Instead, Hayes was held down by hospital staff on Hunt’s orders while a nurse took blood from his arm against his will. He was also given an X-ray, a CT scan and an EKG, all again without his consent.
The tests showed no communicable diseases and no drug package in Hayes’s stomach. The police found no illicit drugs on either Hayes or Skipper, nor in the van, nor on the ground around the van.
Hunt then took Hayes to the Dorchester County Medical Center, where he remained until the next day. Hayes’s appointed attorney Katie Dalheimer later asked the prosecutor in charge of Hayes’s case whether she had viewed the dash-cam video. She said she hadn’t. Once she did, she dismissed all the charges against Hayes.
With the help of South Carolina attorney J. Christopher Mills, Hayes filed a civil rights lawsuit against deputies Hunt and Knight, as well as emergency room physician Peter Brady, the Hospital Corporation of America, Trident Medical Services and the Summerville Medical Center. He settled with the hospital early on. In November 2014, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant recommended that Hunt be released from Hayes’s lawsuit, but that Knight be denied qualified immunity on all of Hayes’s remaining claims. Two months later, federal district court judge Richard Mark Gergel agreed. Dorchester County settled with Hayes last year. Mills won’t disclose the amount but said that Hayes is satisfied with the outcome.
Neither Hunt nor Knight were ever disciplined for what happened to Hayes. In fact, Knight was later promoted to corporal. The following April, Knight was honored by the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office for his role in apprehending two suspects after a high-speed chase, during which one of the suspects fired at police. One of the suspects later filed a lawsuit, claiming that Knight and other officers beat him, kicked him, spit on him and let a police dog repeatedly bite him after he had given himself up and had been restrained. That litigation is pending in federal court. In February of last year, a federal judge denied qualified immunity for the officers in that case as well.
According to Mills, Knight has since left the sheriff’s office and now is director of security for a local school district.