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Testimony continues in former deputy's trial

Posted: January 28, 2011 2:09 p.m.
Updated: January 31, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Former Kershaw County deputy Oddie Tribble didn’t take the witness stand Thursday afternoon in Courtroom II of the Matthew J. Perry Jr. Courthouse in Columbia, but his voice was heard nonetheless.

During cross examination of a S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) agent at Tribble’s federal trial on violating a Camden man’s civil rights, defense attorneys had that agent’s video-recorded interrogation of Tribble played for the jury.

On that recording, Tribble acknowledges striking Charles Shelley several times in the sally port of the Kershaw County Detention Center (KCDC) on the evening of Aug. 5, 2010, but claimed not to recall doing so 27 times. SLED Agent Lee Blackmon is seen on the recording asking Tribble several times about striking Shelley with his Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) issued asp.

Each time, Tribble is heard on the recording admitting to some strikes, but not as many as Blackmon told him he had seen on the video recording. The incident involving Tribble and Shelley took place after Shelley was arrested at a KCSO checkpoint on Haile Street just outside the Camden city limits.

Blackmon, assigned to SLED’s major crimes division, said he was assigned to Tribble’s case the day after the incident. During direct examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Beth Drake, he said he met with former Kershaw County Sheriff Steve McCaskill and former KCSO investigator Danny Catoe. Blackmon said he then went to the Kershaw County Detention Center (KCDC) where he first viewed the video of the incident. He said he conducted a number of interviews and then returned to the KCSO to interview Tribble.

“Sgt. Tribble indicated he pulled out the asp when Shelley jerked away from him,” said Blackmon. “I asked him how many times he struck Shelley and his answer was very unclear. He said a ‘couple of times;’ he was really unsure.”

Blackmon testified that Tribble acknowledged that officers are expected to be beyond reproach.

“When I asked him if he knew he had struck Shelley nearly 30 times, he said he didn’t know that. He thought it was only a couple of times. He indicated he was in control, that Shelley’s remarks hadn’t made him angry,” said Blackmon.

Defense attorney Greg Harris focused in on how many people Blackmon actually interviewed. Harris had Blackmon establish there were 10 prisoners in the van, including Shelley, but that he didn’t interview all of them.

“My understanding was they were all at the jail, but a number of them didn’t speak English and I didn’t have an interpreter. Some were not interviewed at that time; I did interview a total of four people,” said Blackmon.

Harris returned to talking about Blackmon’s interview of Tribble, confirming that Tribble never said he didn’t want to talk and answered all of his questions. Blackmon also confirmed he did not show Tribble the video tape of the incident.

“I didn’t want to get his recollections of the video, I wanted to get his recollections of his own actions,” said Blackmon.

At that point, Blackmon’s interview of Tribble was played for the jury.

On the video, Tribble says he did not know who Shelley was and didn’t know why Shelley “singled me out” at the roadblock. Shelley was the last to be arrested, says Tribble. He claims Shelley smelled of alcohol and that Shelley started saying derogatory things about KCSO deputies on the drive to the KCDC.

Tribble tells Blackmon he told Shelley to be quiet only to have Shelley claim he would use the Internet to find out where he and his family live and threatened to hurt them.

“I told him to stop before he would get a charge. He told me he didn’t want me to put my hands on him at the jail and I said, ‘You don’t control this right now,’” Tribble says on the recording.

At the jail -- following what he says was protocol -- Tribble says he grabbed Shelley to assist him out of the van. He says Shelley pulled away and would not obey any verbal commands. Tribble is then heard on the recording going quickly through his striking of Shelley to a point where a KCDC officer informs him he must take Shelley to the hospital.

Later on the tape, Tribble acknowledges knowing of Shelley’s injuries.

Blackmon asks him how many times he struck Shelley. There is a long pause before Tribble answers, using “boom boom” and “pow pow pow” several times to describe making the strikes. When told again that he struck Shelley close to 30 times, Tribble says he can’t recall striking the prisoner that many times.

“I told him he’d been placed under arrest,” Tribble says on the recording, referring to Shelley allegedly not complying with commands. “He says, ‘Oh, you gonna beat me like the Hebrews say?’”

Blackmon asks him if Shelley ever asked him to stop.

“He didn’t say stop until he was on the ground. That’s when I knew I had control of him,” Tribble says.

Tribble never states that he felt he used excessive force.

“You’ve got to be beyond that -- above that when dealing with individuals. To be honest, I don’t take too lightly to threats because he was trying to go into a personal, family thing,” says Tribble. “But I wasn’t too concerned because I didn’t think he could hurt me, I didn’t feel he could hurt my family.”

Another long pause after a question comes when Tribble admits that he struck Shelley while he was down. There is yet another pause when Blackmon asks, again, how many times he struck Shelley.

“I wasn’t trying to count. I was trying to get control of him. I knew I could bring him down in three to four licks,” Tribble says, claiming he struck Shelley on the ground because his “legs were coming out” as if to kick him.

But, Tribble insists, he was in control of the situation and his actions were appropriate.

“Did he make you mad?” Blackmon asks.

“Not to the level where I would have to lose control on an individual,” Tribble responds. “I felt controlled in that situation.”

Blackmon worked closely with Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Special Agent Boeman Wong. Part of the FBI’s white collar crime squad, Wong testified that he and Blackmon were not always with each other when conducting interviews. Of the nine other prisoners, Wong said, he and Blackmon successfully met with six witnesses, but the remaining three were never interviewed.

“We had their contact information and called them several times, but those three did not call back to arrange for interviews,” Wong said.

Defense attorney Johnny Gasser had Wong confirm the remaining three witnesses -- all Hispanic males -- were not interviewed by either SLED or the FBI.

“We were told by another witness that those men didn’t want to be involved, didn’t want to be interviewed,” said Wong. “We can’t force someone to cooperate with an investigation; I cannot force you to talk to me. That’s why we held off on hunting them down.”

Wong agreed with Gasser that there were discrepancies between different witnesses’ statements. But, Wong said, that was why he focused more on the video recording of the incident.

“There’s no turning away of the camera, no blinking,” said Wong.

Parade of witnesses

Blackmon and Wong were just two in a parade of witnesses who testified Thursday.

The first that morning was Kershaw County Director of Special Services Peggy Spivey. Spivey’s duties include overseeing the KCDC as well code, litter and animal control enforcement activities. Spivey is also a former KCSO deputy who was the head of security at the Kershaw County Courthouse -- the same position held by Tribble prior to being fired Aug. 6, 2010.

Spivey testified that she received a call from the jail about the incident almost immediately after it happened. She said she arrived between 8:45 and 9 p.m., spoke to staff members and then went to her office to review the video recording, which was entered into evidence.

Spivey also said it is KCDC policy not to assist law enforcement officers in the sally port.

“We don’t do that,” Spivey said. “Officers haven’t turned anyone over to us yet. We stay inside to keep the facility secure.”

If there is a problem, she said, law enforcement can call for backup from their own department or other outside agencies.

Spivey’s testimony gave prosecutors the first chance to show at least one version of the sally port video to the jury.

After jurors viewed the recording, Gasser asked Spivey to reiterate the KCDC policy on assisting officers in the sally port.

“We don’t go out and assist other agencies. Our main focus is to book them once they’re turned over to us,” said Spivey, reaffirming that KCDC officers’ primary concern is for the safety of the detainees already inside the jail and their fellow employees.

On redirect, Drake asked Spivey what a deputy or police officer could do if they needed backup. Spivey testified that they could call on other deputies on their shift or other outside law enforcement agencies.

The next witness was Henry Crumk, an employee of the technology company which developed and installed the KCDC’s security system. Crumk testified that he could tell the video had been downloaded multiple times. He explained that the security cameras react to motion and that different tracks -- times when the camera reacted to movement -- can be tied to make on video.

“What I saw looking at the video, I could see it had been downloaded multiple times; that’s why you see it stopping and starting at certain points. It’s designed not to be ‘fixed.’ It’s a true watermark; it can’t be changed,” said Crumk.

Gasser asked if there was any possibility something was missed.

“No, I’ve reviewed the video quite a few times with a number of my engineers,” said Crumk. “There’s nothing missing.”

U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie, looking for even more clarity, asked Crumk why the transport van seems to disappear from the recording for a short time. Crumk said that came from one track being laid over another.

“Due to the … protection … it retained the original start time, but everything stayed intact,” Crumk told her.

“I really don’t have any idea what you’re saying,” said Currie, eliciting congenial laughter from the courtroom.

The third government witness of the day was someone well-known to Tribble: former KCSO Commander Kirk Corley, who was the department’s training officer until December.

Corley, now with the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department, testified that one of the things Tribble would have been trained for at the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy would have been use of force. In addition, he confirmed his own and Tribble’s signatures on a document acknowledging Tribble’s receipt of the KCSO’s own use of force policy.

“It stated that an officer should use the minimal force necessary to effect an arrest or overcome resistance,” said Corley.

On cross, Gasser asked Corley about a “force continuum” and the use of a “+1” scale of resistance versus use of force. Corley said at the low end of the scale is the mere presence of an officer; at the high end is deadly force.

“The general consensus of the training is that you want the officer one step higher than the suspect. So, if the suspect backs down, you slide down with them,” said Corley.

On redirect from Drake, Corley added, “Within the +1 theory, if someone has an empty hand, maybe (the officer) can arm themselves by using a hard hand (technique) or spray or baton.”

Following Corley, Drake called Camden orthopaedic surgeon Tom Joseph who treated Shelley last August. Joseph, board certified with a subspecialty in foot and ankle surgery, was entered as an expert witness. He testified that he saw Shelley for the first time on Aug. 6, finding him to be suffering a fracture and laceration on his right leg.

“It shows the front view and shows a fracture of the … the smaller bone in the lower leg,” said Joseph as jurors passed around an X-ray, some of them holding it up toward the courtroom’s recessed lighting.

Joseph was then allowed to approach the jury with a skeletal model of the particular bones involved.

“The final exam suggested strong force was applied to the ankle from the side, from this direction,” he said as he gestured toward the model’s right side.

Joseph also said he had viewed the KCDC sally port video.

“The strikes are consistent with what would have caused the fracture, in my opinion,” said Joseph, who was not cross examined by the defense.

Firestorm

Thursday’s last witness was Maria Padilla of Camden, a mother of four who works cleaning houses. She was the only woman arrested at the Haile Street checkpoint Aug. 5, charged with not having her driver’s license. She was transported by Tribble and Deputy Jimmy Simmons, who was driving.

It was the first time she had ever been arrested and she was scared, she said.

Padilla said she was placed in the front of the van. Eight others, all men, were already inside. Some were men she knew from church. It was after 7 p.m., she said.

“One person was placed after me, a black male,” Padilla said, referring to Shelley. “He was asking for his inhaler. He said he had asthma and that it was hot in the van. It was very hot in the van.”

Padilla said Shelley talked incessantly both before the van left and during the ride to the KCDC. She said the van did not leave for 30 minutes after Shelley was placed on the vehicle and deputies never brought his inhaler. The trip to the KCDC was about 10 to 12 minutes, she said.

While the van sat at the roadblock, said Padilla, Shelley once lifted his feet off the van’s floor and tried to kick out a window several times.

“And he was talking and talking -- he wouldn’t stop talking,” she said. “I don’t remember what he was saying. I was just like, you know, in a panic.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tara McGregor asked Padilla whether Shelley’s words were “nice” or “not nice.” Padilla said “not nice.”

Padilla also said that during most of the ride Tribble did not act angry. But, when they stopped at a traffic light by the Bank of America (at Mill and East DeKalb streets), Tribble got “real mad.”

“He told the black man, ‘You watch when we get to the detention center.’”

McGregor asked her if she remembered previously telling prosecutors that Tribble had then told Shelley, “I’m going to kick your ass.”

“I don’t remember that,” said Padilla, setting up a firestorm that would erupt later between McGregor and Harris.

Padilla, still under direct from McGregor, went on to describe the events seen on the video recording of the incident at the jail. She said she was placed outside and in front of the van near the rear of the sally port, her head turned toward the intake door.

“But when I turned back, I saw (Tribble) hitting the man,” Padilla said. “I don’t know how many times he was struck; it was a lot of times.”

She said Shelley told Tribble to stop, that he was hurting him, but that Tribble didn’t respond. She said it never appeared that Shelley was resisting, just trying to get away from being hit. Padilla said Shelley appeared to be in pain, but did not cry out.

“Did he ask for help?” ask McGregor.

“Yes.”

“Did anyone help?”

“No, ma’am.”

Padilla also said she was looking toward the intake door near the end of the incident and saw Tribble strike Shelley three more times. She said she saw Shelley again later that night, around 3 or 4 a.m.; his leg was bleeding.

On cross from Harris, Padilla described Shelley as angry, but didn’t remember him making any threats on Tribble’s family. She did agree, however, that his words were “horrible” and “racist,” as Harris described them.

Padilla said she recalled Shelley telling Tribble “don’t touch me” and “you’re not going to get me out of this van.” That last statement was what the defense said Tribble was responding to when he told Shelley to “watch out” when they got to the detention center.

When they arrived, she said in response to Harris’ questions, Tribble asked Shelley several times to step out of the van. She said he used the honorific “sir” each time toward Shelley. She said Shelley responded that he wasn’t going to get out at least once.

On redirect, McGregor, referring either to notes from or the transcript of Padilla’s Sept. 8, 2010, grand jury testimony, asked if she remembered testifying that Tribble used the phrase “kick your ass” toward Shelley.

“Yes, ma’am, to the black man,” Padilla responded, who also confirmed she had testified to the grand jury that Tribble had told Shelley to “get your black ass up” while beating him on the ground.

Harris then had another chance to cross examine Padilla, asking her if she had met with prosecutors earlier in the week and told them she had been mistaken about Tribble’s “kick your ass” statement.

At that point, McGregor asked for a sidebar; afterward, Padilla said she believes Tribble’s actual statement was “I’m going to get you.”

After the jury was dismissed for the day, Currie asked attorneys for help in clarifying whether Padilla was recanting at least a portion of her testimony, based on Harris’ cross examination.

Standing up quickly from her seat, McGregor exclaimed, “That did not happen!”

She and Harris went back and forth for a while, McGregor insisting there was no recanting; Harris claiming Padilla had changed her testimony. With Gasser intervening, Judge Currie ended the discussion with both parties agreeing that Padilla had not recanted, only recollected Tribble’s statement now differently than she had four months ago.

Prosecutors were expected to call nearly the same number of witnesses Friday as they had Thursday. Currie told the jury she expected proceedings to continue Monday as well. The C-I will have complete coverage of Friday and Monday’s testimony Wednesday.

 

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