CPD launches internal affairs investigation in wake of federal lawsuit

Jonathan McCoy (at left) questions the officers arresting Allen McAlister (striped shirt)
Jonathan McCoy (at left) questions the officers arresting Allen McAlister (striped shirt)

By Jody Barr - email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Columbia police have responded to a federal lawsuit against them by launching an internal affairs investigation into a Oct. 17, 2009 arrest of a Myrtle Beach attorney.

"All allegations of misconduct or wrongdoing by members of CPD or any City of Columbia Public Safety Department will be promptly, objectively, fairly, and fully investigated," said Assistant City Manager Michael King in a statement.

The investigation and federal lawsuit center around surveillance video of 27-year-old Myrtle Beach attorney Jonathan David McCoy's encounter with three Columbia police officers in Five Points.

On October 17, Columbia police got a call from a bartender at Red Hot Tomatoes in Five Points about a man causing a disturbance.
When police arrived, they found the man more than 20 yards away in front of Sharky's.

Surveillance video shot outside Sharky's shows Columbia police officers James Heywood, Amanda Long and John Passmore walk up to 25-year-old Allen McAlister.

As the officers approached, one officer immediately placed McAlister under arrest. But the three officers later wrote in a police report, "he needed to leave," and said they gave him "several chances to leave."

[Click here to read the original police report about the incident]
The officers wrote in their report that McAlister walked back to the bar twice before officers wrestled McAlister to the ground and arrested him.
Police went on to claim McAlister "snatched his arms away" and "started pushing the officers away," claims the video does not support.

The lawsuit says McAlister was arrested for refusing to leave Red Hot Tomatoes, though the video shows he was already out of the bar when police arrived.
The video then shows McCoy walking up to ask officers why they were arresting his friend.

The officers wrote in their report that McCoy "grabbed an officer by the arm" and continued to intervene by "getting in [the reporting officer's] face." McCoy says he was simply asking the officers about McAlister's arrest details, bond hearing and Miranda rights.

In the video, officers shoved McCoy several times before placing him under arrest. The officers reported in detail that McCoy resisted arrest, allegations the video also disputes.

McCoy's suit claims he asked the officer why he himself was being arrested, and Officer Passmore replied, "for asking questions." The suit said Passmore went on to say it was a crime to ask questions about McAlister's arrest.

In addition to his having his charges dropped, McCoy is also asking for compensation. He says he was traumatized by the ordeal that followed his arrest.

The officers didn't file the charges with the jail after the men were booked in, which caused them to miss two bond hearings and spend a night in jail. During that stay, McCoy witnessed his cellmate kill himself.

McCoy's cellmate had been booked on charges of assault and battery with intent to kill and driving under the influence, and was found hanged in his cell. Coroner Gary Watts ruled Olin Taylor's death a suicide.

The city announced the investigation Thursday, one week after the city was served with the federal suit.
But according to federal court records, McCoy's attorney notified the city of the complaint and tried to resolve the matter in October.

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