City drops case against NAACP President Lonnie Randolph

Published: Jan. 13, 2014 at 3:17 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 23, 2014 at 3:18 PM EST
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A still image from surveillance video of Dr. Lonnie Randolph's arrest.
A still image from surveillance video of Dr. Lonnie Randolph's arrest.
Dr. Lonnie Randolph celebrates with his legal team Monday morning. (Source: Jack Kuenzie)
Dr. Lonnie Randolph celebrates with his legal team Monday morning. (Source: Jack Kuenzie)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A judge dismissed criminal charges against South Carolina NAACP President Lonnie Randolph Monday morning after the City of Columbia dropped its case against the civil rights leader.

The decision comes five months after Randolph was detained after a confrontation at a dry cleaning business in Five Points.

The owner of Tripp's Fine Cleaners sent a letter to the city late Friday explaining that they would no longer assist the city with prosecution because Randolph suffers from diabetes.

"This was a decision made based solely on Tripp's recalcitrance and not having anything to do with the facts of the case or anything like that," said David Fernandez, the city's assistant attorney.

"In light of the extenuating circumstances, which have now become known, including Dr. Randolph's diabetic condition, I sympathize with Dr. Randolph's condition and situation," wrote Tripp Penninger. "In that light, Tripp's Fine Cleaners does not wish to pursue or prosecute any charges against Dr. Randolph..."

City prosecutors said Monday they believe the officers who made the arrest and subsequent charges were justified, but said the case was significantly hampered without the cooperation of Tripp's.

The defense, lead by attorney Joe McCulloch, had prepared to call as many as 17 witnesses, including Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago, former U.S. attorney Reggie Lloyd and former mayor Bob Coble.

"I think the question can reasonably be asked: Why it took this long," said McCulloch.

Randolph was arrested on July 12, 2013 after police say he became belligerent and uncooperative inside the store.

An employee called police, saying Randolph refused to pay his bill and would not to leave.

His attorney and several community leaders said Randolph was suffering from a diabetic episode at the time.

Controversy surrounded the arrest after City Manager Teresa Wilson reportedly showed up at the scene. A proposal from Mayor Steve Benjamin to ban city officials from crime scenes was defeated by city council in August.

Weeks after the arrest Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago said he believed it would be right to drop the charges in light of Randolph's diabetes.

Randolph has long struggled with Brittle Type One diabetes and had experienced similar problems in the past.

Randolph declined on camera comment, but said he wanted the trial to take place because it would be educational and it would also spotlight the city's unusual degree of resistance to calls for dropping the charges.

Randolph says he has had his medication adjusted since the incident in hopes of heading off another episode.

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