COTTAGEVILLE, S.C. -- Family members demanded answers Tuesday after a police officer with a checkered past shot and killed a former small-town mayor with issues of his own on a rural dirt road.
Police are releasing no information about what happened Monday in this town of 700, except to say that Officer Randall Price has been placed on paid leave while South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigates. He shot 40-year-old Bert Reeves once in the chest with his service revolver, officials said. Reeves was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Investigators said it wasn't clear how the two ended up on the dirt road near the town's main thoroughfare where Reeves lived. They have not said whether Price was called there on official police business, and no 911 calls have been released.
"The family feels that no matter how you do the math, it appears that Bert, an unarmed man, was shot and killed by a police officer who was trained to handle the exact situation that he found himself in," Mullins McLeod, an attorney in nearby Walterboro, told The Associated Press. "If an altercation did occur, then the officer should have used a Taser and not shot and killed the father of two young children."
Reeves objected in March after Price arrested an employee of his construction business but he made no formal complaint, Cottageville Police Chief John Craddock said.
No working number could be found Tuesday for Price, who was hired in 2008 as an officer in Cottageville, about 35 miles northwest of Charleston. Craddock said he had no problems with the officer, whom he described as hard-working and aggressive in dealing with drug-related issues. But he said he had read newspaper accounts describing Price's troubled employment history in different departments.
In February 2010, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported that Price insisted that he had been victimized by vendettas in the small towns where he cycled through eight jobs in 11 years.
"If you make somebody mad, you are going to have to deal with it," he told the paper. "And I am the poster child for that."
Price was fired from the Aiken County Sheriff's Office in 2001 after he was charged with criminal domestic violence, a charge wiped from his record after he completed a pretrial program. Blackville's mayor fired Price in 2004 for allegedly slamming a handcuffed suspect against a car and onto pavement, the paper reported.
Allendale police fired Price in December 2006, citing excessive force complaints that included an allegation of pointing his gun at an unarmed driver during a traffic stop that resulted in no arrests.
Reeves had his own troubles. In 2006, when he was mayor, he was ticketed going 103 mph in a 55 mph zone. Three months later, he broke his ribs and collarbone and shattered his pelvis when his truck hit a row of mailboxes and overturned, hitting a drainage culvert.
He was first charged with driving under the influence, but that charge was dropped after a blood-alcohol test was negative. Subsequent testing revealed that Reeves had in his system a byproduct created when the body breaks down tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, the mind-altering chemical in marijuana.
He resigned in December 2006 when results of those tests became public. He returned to his construction business and authorities said there was not enough evidence to prosecute him on a charge of driving under the influence of drugs.
In Cottageville, where pockets of elegant houses tucked behind wrought iron gates alternate with mobile homes on winding dirt roads, people tried to make sense of his death Tuesday.
"There was no reason to shoot him," said Sue Nussman, 65. "Everybody knows Bert."
Down the dirt road where Reeves was shot, one resident said the tiny community was filled with rivalries and personality conflicts.
"These small town boys play heavy," said Jacob Goose, 60, who knew Reeves and saw him as a good man. "Somebody's related to everybody around here, and people in these small towns, they just pull each other's teeth."
McLeod, who grew up with Reeves and previously served as Cottageville's town attorney, said he was trying to cope with the loss of his friend.
"A friend for me is a friend for life," McLeod said of Reeves, who is divorced. "He was a wonderful father, a loyal friend, and somebody who I'll miss an awful lot."