3rd SC trooper facing federal civil rights charge

COLUMBIA, S.C. - A South Carolina state trooper caught on video trying to run down a suspect with his patrol car is expected to plead guilty to a federal civil rights charge, a prosecutor said Wednesday.


Lance Cpl. Alexander Richardson, 46, was charged this week with a misdemeanor offense of violating civil rights by using excessive force, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin McDonald said.

An April 2007 video shot from Richardson's patrol car dashboard camera shows the trooper chasing a black man through a Columbia apartment complex. He drives between buildings, on sidewalks and past onlookers - including a small child - in an attempt to run down the man.

After about a minute, Richardson's car bumps the man, who grabs the vehicle to try to steady himself. He doesn't fall and takes off running again.

Officials were taking steps to suspend Richardson until the legal case is finished, said South Carolina Department Public Safety Department spokesman Sid Gaulden.

Prompted by media requests, the Public Safety agency last year released that video and others showing troopers acting aggressively.

Authorities began investigating the Highway Patrol in March after tapes emerged of a trooper using a racial epithet. The chiefs of the Highway Patrol and Public Safety resigned amid criticism from black lawmakers.

Richardson, who is black, was reprimanded and completed a stress management course after the incident, disciplinary records show. A message left for Richardson's attorney was not immediately returned.

Richardson has been cited several times for failing to activate his dashboard camera, according to Patrol records. In 2006, Richardson was ordered to attend counseling after a suspect accused the trooper of slapping him in the face and uttering a crude comment as he stuck a club in his mouth. In 1990, a drunken driving suspect accused Richardson of striking him in the face at the Florence County jail.

Richardson was not charged in either complaint.

Two other troopers taped hitting suspects have faced felony civil rights charges, with different outcomes.

Former trooper John B. Sawyer, who kicked a suspect in the head after a highway chase, pleaded guilty and faces up to 10 years in prison. Steve Garren, who was caught bragging about striking a fleeing black suspect with his cruiser, was acquitted in October. He is still with the Highway Patrol.

Sawyer and Garren are both white. Unlike those men, Richardson was charged with a misdemeanor because the man he is accused of hitting was not hurt, McDonald said.

"He nudged the individual," he said. "Unlike the other cases, there appeared to be no injury."

The man struck by Richardson's patrol car has sued the trooper. In a federal lawsuit filed last year, Kevin Rucker said he was hit by the car three times. It seeks unspecified actual and punitive damages.

Richardson has said he accidentally bumped into Rucker.

Prosecutors have been in touch with Richardson's attorneys and expect him to plead guilty, McDonald said.

His initial court appearance has not been scheduled. If convicted, Richardson could face up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.