North Charleston, South Carolina (WCSC) – North Charleston Mayor Pro Tim Jerome Heyward says he was unjustly detained at a traffic stop by a Charleston County deputy. He says the situation has escalated unnecessarily and that he has been categorized on a racial basis.
On Sunday, July 24, Representative Leonard Villa stopped Hayward for failing to signal when he changed lanes. He was driving a rental car. After Attorney Leonard Villa granted his license and registration, Representative asked Heyward to show proof of a car rental agreement. Heyward couldn’t produce it when he said things escalated.
In the body cam video, Vella can be heard saying “I am ordering you to lock the car and get out now. I will force you out of the car… Yes sir I will.”
Vice Vella then requests a backup and subsequent calls to the K-9 unit, which was not available in the future.
“Obviously the whole thing, the whole deal, was one thing, profiling at its best. I never thought a traffic stop would escalate into a dog unit being dispatched and an officer talking about getting me out of the car,” Heyward says.
Lawcountry attorney Stephen Futerall has worked in Mount Pleasant for 30 years. He says that not having a car rental agreement is a valid reason to detain someone under South Carolina law.
“There is absolutely no reason I can find under South Carolina law where law enforcement is justified in some way…There is no criminal law on the books that requires you to obtain this agreement or even submit it to law enforcement,” Fuuterall says.
Furthermore, Fueteral clarifies that the rental agreement will have nothing to do with criminal law about who is allowed to drive. The rental agreement is a civil matter between the company and the person booking the vehicle.
“Requesting to see or claim a lease—this is not a matter of law enforcement. Even if they get their hands on the lease agreement and see that someone else is driving the vehicle that was not on the lease agreement, that is a civil matter,” says Fueteral.
Heyward filed a racial discrimination complaint the day after the incident. The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office acquitted Villa’s deputy Aug. 1 after an internal investigation. Heyward says he never told the deputy about the public position he held as Pro-Team mayor of North Charleston during the interaction.
“I shouldn’t and never mentioned it because that’s irrelevant. At this point, we’re ordinary citizens and I should be treated with dignity and respect. It’s something that is given to everyone,” Heyward says.
He was held, says Heyward, standing in the heat in front of a cruiser engine, for about 40 minutes.
“As a community leader, I have to take this very seriously…I mean who in their right mind wouldn’t be concerned about someone being able to identify racial traits of someone doing nothing wrong,” Heyward says.
Futerall says that because there is no arrest, Heyward may not be entitled to take legal action against the department, but recommends a discussion with commanders about the incident.
“It is unfortunate that this happened, but no one was injured and no one was imprisoned. However, I think it is worth pressing him to hold a meeting with senior officials within the mayor’s department to talk about training on this very topic,” says Fueteral.
Heyward says he is not finished with this incident, even if the internal investigation is closed. He feels it is important for him to stand up for his constituents and himself in this matter.
“They removed it. So he was allowed to do it again. And it’s a pattern. I want to see all the tickets he’s written in his career because I want to take a look at that,” Heyward says.
Overall, Heyward says he wants to see more transparency and change from the Charleston County Police Department in the future.
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