SC man sues Columbia law enforcement claiming they fired rubber bullets, tear gas at peaceful protesters

WARNING GRAPHIC IMAGES: The man says he was hit by rubber bullets several times in the back.
Updated: Jun. 12, 2020 at 12:05 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A man who says he was peacefully protesting in downtown Columbia when police shot him with tear gas and rubber bullets has filed a federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit names the Columbia Police Department, unknown CPD officers, Richland County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Leon Lott, unknown RCSD deputies, the City of Columbia and “unknown South Carolina Department Of Corrections Special Response Team Officers” as defendants.

It was filed Thursday by Patrick Norris, who is being represented by Marc Brown, court documents show.

In the lawsuit, Norris says he was part of a peaceful group of protesters gathering against police brutality on Sunday, May 31.

He says during the protest he was shot several times in the back with rubber bullets.

“There is no excuse,” said Norris.

The South Carolina resident says he started at the State House on Sunday and joined the group as they marched toward CPD headquarters.

When the protesters got to Hampton Street, officers in riot gear were set up behind a barricade at the intersection of Hampton and Lincoln streets, the lawsuit says.

WIS was there at the scene that day and reported that the Dept. of Corrections Special Response Team was lined up to stop protesters, along with RCSD deputies.

The lawsuit claims protesters were chanting at the barricade and recording what was happening when “suddenly, an order was given to push the protesters away from the barricades.”

Officers in riot gear “began shoving the peaceful protesters using their plastic shields,” the lawsuit says. It claims protesters did nothing to provoke that action from police.

“When the response teams started pushing forward, that is when there was resistance,” Norris said.

The lawsuit says that’s when “loud pops were heard,” and rubber bullets were fired into the crowd, followed by tear gas.

While some protesters held their ground, the lawsuits says “most of the protesters scattered under a hail of rubber bullets.”

The lawsuit says officers “were the aggressors” and that Norris was in a crowd of peaceful protesters when he was hit several times in the back and leg by “rubber bullets.”

“There was nothing in the air when they opened up on us,” he said.

These pictures are a couple of days after the protest, the lawsuit states.
These pictures are a couple of days after the protest, the lawsuit states.(Patrick Norris)

Sheriff Leon Lott responded to these events in a news conference on Monday, June 1. He said he was there on Sunday when protesters were throwing rocks and bottles at the line of officers before they fired tear gas.

Lott claims officers did not respond with force until they were attacked. He said nothing about rubber bullets being used at that time.

“There’s no doubt what their intent was and that was to destroy property, police cars, police buildings, whatever,” the sheriff said. “So we had to stop them and we did stop them.”

WIS crews were also on the scene at Hamilton and Lincoln streets that Sunday and did not report seeing rubber bullets. However, the journalists were further away from the barricades than protesters.

Later in the day Sunday, when another confrontation happened between police and protesters outside the State House, an officer told WIS he had a “bean bag” gun.

Bean bag rounds are used similarly to rubber bullets.

Lott confirmed in his news conference Monday that bean bag rounds were used Saturday during protests, but he did not mention Sunday.

The lawsuit claims law enforcement used excessive force during Sunday’s protest and claims officers were negligent when they fired “indiscriminately into a crowd of protesters” and “failed to protect” Norris.

He is asking for a jury trial.

The lawsuit seeks “compensatory and punitive damages, costs and all other relief that is deemed just and appropriate.”

Marc Brown is representing Norris in this case. He says the injuries his client received were excessive and he hopes this case will help to bring about change in protocols.

“I have the utmost respect for police officers and respect the ones that do their job properly and put their life on the line,” Brown said. “It’s just when mistakes happen when you are aiming a firearm at a human... You can’t make mistakes.”

RCSD said Thursday it’s not been served with the lawsuit. CPD and SCDC declined to comment. WIS has reached out to the City of Columbia, as well.

Below is the lawsuit in full:

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