COLUMBIA, SC (WIS)- The federal civil rights trial against a former Kershaw County sheriff's sergeant started Thursday, five and a half months after a jail house security camera recorded a beating that left a handcuffed inmate with a broken leg.
The beating happened August 5, 2010 inside the Kershaw County Detention Center's sally port while former deputy Oddie Tribble and deputy Jimmy Simmons delivered 10 detainees from a traffic stop in Camden. One of the inmates was Charles Shelley; arrested at the road block and charged with driving under suspension, possession of marijuana, open container, giving false information to a police officer, and being a habitual traffic offender.
The video showed a Kershaw County sheriff's transport van pull into the sally port and stop in front of the jail's booking windows. Tribble climbed from the van's front passenger seat, secured his taser and gun inside a lock box, and opened the van's side doors to walk the prisoners into the jail. Tribble unloaded Maria Padilla first, then unloaded Shelley. For the next two minutes, Tribble lands 27 strikes to Shelley's lower legs with his steel police baton. The reasons, according to Tribble, Shelley was disobeying commands and responding to a "high threat level," according to Tribble's defense attorney Greg Harris.
It's what happened out of view of the video that Tribble's defense said caused the deputy to react. Harris said Shelley threatened the former deputy and his family on the ride from the road block to the jail. Witnesses inside the van told investigators that Shelley "ran his mouth" to Tribble all the way to the jail, but Shelley was "all talk and no action," Christopher Lomax with the Dept. of Justice's Civil Rights Division told the jury.
"This was a violent, unjustifiable beating," Lomax said in his opening statement, "by an officer who abused his authority." Lomax said that Shelley admitted he said things to Tribble "that are regrettable," but told jurors that Shelley didn't deserve the beating. Witnesses inside the van, according to Lomax, told investigators that at one point on the ride to jail Tribble turned to Shelley and said, "I'm going to get you when we get to the detention center."
The video showed Tribble helping Shelley from the van's side door toward the booking door of the jail. On Shelley's second step, the video showed Tribble unsheath his steel baton and land blows so hard that it left the handcuffed man with a broken right lower leg. Shelley, according to Lomax, "begged the defendant (Tribble) to stop."
The jail's Lieutenant James Robinson, who witnessed portions of the beating from the jail's booking windows, refused to book Shelley and told Tribble to take the inmate to the emergency room to get him checked out. Camden surgeon, Dr. Thomas Joseph told the jury that he x-rayed Shelley's right leg and found a fracture of his fibula, the small bone that runs down the outside of the leg just above the ankle.
The next day, SLED agent Lee Blackmon went to the Kershaw County Sheriff's Office and met with former sheriff Stephen McCaskill and investigator Danny Catoe. Blackmon got a look at the video of the beating, then sat down with Tribble; wearing his deputy uniform, inside an interrogation room to get the former deputy's version of the beating. The interview lasted about 16 minutes, and started after Blackmon read Tribble his rights. The interview was video recorded.
"He pulled away … I started popping him," Tribble told Blackmon. "He was not following no [sic] verbal commands," Tribble told the agent about his attempts to get Shelley out of the van. Tribble told Blackmon that the inmate jerked away from him two times, and the beating started. Tribble could not remember exactly how many times he hit Shelley, "I know I hit him a couple of times. I'm not sure of the count," Tribble continued, "I wasn't trying to count."
Blackmon started questioning Tribble about the threats Shelley made on the ride to the jail. During the recorded interview, Tribble tells the agent that Shelley told him that he would use the Internet to find his wife and daughter. "I said sir, you need to stop before you get a charge," Tribble said he told Shelley. But, a witness inside the van testified that conversation never happened.
Tribble told the agent that he didn't take Shelley's threats too seriously, "I wasn't concerned about him because I don't think he could hurt me," Tribble continued, "I didn't have fear towards him."
Blackmon asked Tribble several times during the interview if he had any idea of how many times he hit Shelley. Tribble said he remembered only a few times, but said he felt that he was within the department's excessive use of force guidelines, "I have a high tolerance level that I can accept … I know about excessive force," Tribble told agent Blackmon, "I felt like I was in control."
Tribble's federal trial continues Friday with testimony from Charles Shelley.
If convicted of the civil rights violation, Tribble faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
WIS has a crew inside the courthouse and will bring you updates as they happen on wistv.com and on the air starting on the News at 5pm.