Video: High-speed chase suspect had hands up when Charleston County deputy threw punches
When law officers chased a car through West Ashley last week, they thought its driver was the gunman in a recent shooting.
The car finally stopped after a police cruiser cut it off. Still at the wheel, the driver raised his hands in front of a North Charleston policeman pointing a gun at him.
But Deputy Cory Shelton jumped from his cruiser, ran straight for the suspect's open window and punched at the man, a video from his vehicle shows.
A dozen lawmen eventually handcuffed the motorist after an officer hit him with a Taser.
Shelton was quick to claim the arrest as he bumped fists with deputies who congratulated him.
“All I know is I was finally primary on a pursuit,” he said, according to the video. “That's all I care about.”
His approach differed from the more cautious procedures for detaining potentially violent criminals that are taught in law academies and adopted as policy by the Charleston County Sheriff's Office. Agency Maj. Jim Brady said Wednesday that a more measured tack “possibly” could have been used and that internal investigators will analyze the case.
“The last thing they want to do is run up to the car,” said Geoff Alpert, a criminal justice professor at the University of South Carolina. “If he had a weapon, he could have used it against them.”
The driver, 52-year-old Peter Jenkins, was not the man they were expecting, but he does have a lengthy rap sheet that includes assaulting police officers and involuntary manslaughter. At the time of the May 28 arrest, he was wanted on charges that he ran into his girlfriend with his Kia.
The North Charleston Police Department first tried to stop Jenkins for a traffic violation, but his car escaped their jurisdiction. Officers started tailing him again on Interstate 526. Cruisers from other agencies joined the pack in West Ashley.
Shelton became the primary pursuer on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard as the car stopped briefly. The officers struggled to navigate the road because so many police vehicles were involved.
The deputy followed the car into oncoming lanes on Wappoo Road, then into a church parking lot, where it stopped.
Shelton wrote in his report that he saw Jenkins' hands go up, then drop again as he unlatched the door. Shelton said he tried hitting Jenkins' neck because he couldn't see one of the suspect's hands. His fist missed, and he instead hit the car, he reported.
But the video shows Jenkins' hands still in the air when Shelton threw his first jab.
“That's going to be a good video,” Shelton later said.
Shelton seemed satisfied with being the first deputy to reach Jenkins.
As paramedics dabbed blood from the suspect's face, Shelton told him that it could have been worse if he had got out. He would have unleashed the police dog from his cruiser, he said.
“You did the right thing by putting your hands up, buddy,” Shelton said. “I had somebody else who wanted to apprehend you.”
Alpert said many police agencies require a secondary pursuer to make the arrest after a chase because of the leader's high adrenaline.
Inexperience also plays a role, he said. Shelton was a correctional officer at the county jail from March 2008 until he became a deputy in April 2011.
“The guys can get wound up,” Alpert said. “That's when something happens that's not reasonable.”
Officers typically take cover behind their cars, point their guns and bark orders for the driver to get out and walk backward toward them. But Brady and Florence McCants, a spokesman for the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy, said each felony police stop is different.
Policy is a guide, but certain cases require prompt physical contact, McCants said. She pointed to instances in which a motorist quickly gets out of a car and shoots at an officer.
“It depends on whether the officers feel there is a threat,” McCants said. “But a felony traffic stop is very serious. You've got to be careful.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.