Videos show troopers kicking, hitting suspects
March 31, 2008

COLUMBIA, S.C. --A South Carolina state trooper is seen kicking a suspect in the head multiple times after a high speed interstate chase in the latest in a string of alarming Highway Patrol videos.

In two other videos released Monday, a trooper is seen punching a suspect several times in the face after a pursuit and a different officer appears to hit a suspect with the barrel of a shotgun during a traffic stop.

The Department of Public Safety released the videos following media requests. They are the latest to surface showing troopers acting aggressively toward suspects.

Highway Patrol Col. Russell Roark and his boss, Public Safety Director James Schweitzer, resigned earlier this year after a video surfaced showing a trooper use a racial epithet while chasing a black suspect. Two other videos released in the weeks that followed show troopers using their cars to ram fleeing suspects.

The number of complaints lodged against South Carolina troopers increased dramatically from 2005 to 2006 - the year all three of the newest videos were recorded - as the number of troopers increased only slightly, according to an Associated Press review of disciplinary records. State budget cuts reduced the force in 2005 to 785 and about 100 officers were added a year later. The force currently has about 950 officers.

The videos have led state and federal authorities to begin investigating possible civil rights violations within the Highway Patrol. While Public Safety spokesman Sid Gaulden has said the agency welcomes the investigations, he also has said the actions captured on video aren't indicative of the behavior of most troopers.

"On a daily basis, the men and women of the Patrol continue to do their job and they continue to do it demonstrating unmatched professionalism," Gaulden said. "The fact that they do so in light of what seems to be a constant media harangue about the actions of a few vividly demonstrates the overarching theme of public service."

In one video released Monday, Lance Cpl. John B. Sawyer can be seen kicking Sergio Caridi in the head about six times in May 2006.

Caridi led troopers and sheriff's deputies on a 30-mile chase on Interstate 95 in a dump truck. Officers shot out several of the truck's tires and Caridi got out of the vehicle with his hands up and got on the ground before Sawyer kicks him in the head.

Caridi appears to try to get up off the ground, and Sawyer kicks him again. Another officer uses a Taser on Caridi, who was subsequently handcuffed and taken to the Florence County jail, according to disciplinary records.

"The driver got out of his vehicle on his hands and knees but would not listen to commands because he kept getting up," Sawyer wrote in a report about the incident. "I attempted to keep him on the ground by hitting his arms with my leg but he continued."

The now-33-year-old Sawyer, a six-year veteran of the Highway Patrol, was placed on administrative leave after the incident, officials said. He resigned several months later and now works with the Marion County Sheriff's Department, according to documents.

Another video released Monday appears to show a trooper hitting a suspect with the barrel of a shotgun during a November 2006 traffic stop. In that incident, Lance Cpl. Michael Tomson had suspect Demetrius Jones pinned on the ground when he appears to hit him with the gun just off the screen. Jones required several stitches, and Tomson said his shotgun slipped, according to disciplinary reports.

Tomson was demoted one rank and his pay was cut 10 percent, Gaulden said.

In the third video, recorded in January 2006, Lance Cpl. E.J. Burton is seen punching a suspect several times in the face after a pursuit and stop. "Because of our position the only thing I could do was use my hands to gain compliance," Burton wrote in a report about the incident involving Aaron Goodman.

Burton was ordered to undergo counseling, Gaulden said.