Originally created 08/30/97

FBI promises fair probe of inmate death



GREENVILLE, S.C. - The FBI will investigate the death of a black jail inmate who died in a struggle with five white guards. U.S. Attorney Rene Josey promises the probe will be fair.

The Greenville chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says the local FBI may be too close to the Greenville County Detention Center guards to investigate the death of Jamel Orlando Radcliff, who was buried Thursday.

"This does not call for outside investigators," Mr. Josey said. "I'm confident in the FBI, even the Greenville division of the FBI."

Greenville County Administrator Gerald Seals asked for a federal criminal and civil-rights investigation.

A group of about 120 people held a candlelight vigil Thursday night at the Detention Center following Mr. Radcliff's funeral.

In a letter to the Justice Department, Mr. Seals said Mr. Radcliff pulled away from a jail officer and cursed and struck a female officer before he was subdued Aug. 21.

Mr. Seals also identified the five guards. The Greenville News reported Friday that one of them was acquitted of murder 61/2 years ago.

The letter said Mr. Radcliff was sitting in a waiting area after his arrest for failing to appear in court on an illegal weapons charge. He refused to be taken to a holding cell after he was fingerprinted, pulled away from the escorting officer and cursed, Mr. Seals said.

Mr. Radcliff hit the female officer with his fist and she and three others struggled to subdue him. A fifth officer joined in and the officers began putting Mr. Radcliff in restraints, the letter said.

He was carried, winded but breathing, to a holding cell, but five minutes later, Mr. Radcliff was unresponsive with little or no pulse. He was taken to a local hospital where he died about an hour later, the letter said.

Seals identified the five officers as Lt. Alfred H. Zator III, Lt. Donald W. Hampton, Cpl. Kathleen S. Grice, Cpl. Dana A. Lewis and Detention Officer II Robert J. Felton.

Pickens County court records show Lt. Zator was acquitted in January 1991 on charges of murdering his brother, Russell Edward Zator, 38, the newspaper reported. At the time, Mr. Zator said he fired the fatal shots, but said he did so because his brother had beaten him and was heading toward their mother.

The five jail officers have been placed on two-week administrative leave with pay.

While some local black leaders have expressed confidence in the investigation, Greenville NAACP President Ennis Fant questioned the impartiality of the FBI investigators.

Mr. Josey said Mr. Fant may be using the incident to settle a score with the FBI. Mr. Fant, while a state lawmaker, was convicted in the 1991 federal Operation Lost Trust vote-buying investigation and served 10 months in prison.

But Mr. Fant said his views represent those of a 23-member NAACP committee.

"I am not allowed to inject my personal opinion into this case," he said.