Jury acquits trooper in S.C. civil rights case

Trooper Aggression
These photos, rendered from video and released by the South Carolina Highway Patrol, show suspect Marvin Grant running from a patrol car in June 2007.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal jury on Friday acquitted a white South Carolina trooper who bragged about striking a fleeing black suspect with his cruiser in a collision that was captured on video tape.

Lance Cpl. Steven Garren insisted during his four-day trial that the crash was an accident and that he did not have enough time to react when the sprinting Marvin Grant cut in front of his patrol car on a dark, rural road last year.

“No one wanted Marvin Grant to get hit by a car,” lawyer Wally Fayssoux said after the verdict, adding that Garren’s testimony helped the jury make its decision. “They got a chance to see and meet Steven Garren.”

The jury saw the video of the June 2007 collision dozens of times. It shows Grant running from Garren’s patrol car, then suddenly cutting in front of it. Grant was hit and rolled off the hood.

In the video, Garren brags to a deputy who also had been pursuing Grant: “Hey, I nailed the (expletive) out of him.” Seconds later, Garren says: “Yeah, I hit him. I was trying to hit him.”

Garren left the courthouse smiling, his arm over his wife’s shoulder. He refused to take questions from reporters.

Black leaders in South Carolina reacted angrily to the decision from the jury of 10 whites and two blacks.

“This just goes to show us that justice isn’t blind and that Lady Justice’s scales are very unbalanced. To describe it as a miscarriage of justice is an understatement,” said state NAACP president Lonnie Randolph.

During closing arguments earlier in the day, Garren’s wife sobbed and the now-suspended officer dabbed his eyes with a white handkerchief. Garren was charged with using unreasonable force that deprived Grant of his civil rights. The officer could have faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if he had been convicted.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin McDonald said he couldn’t envision handling the case differently and said it shouldn’t be considered an indictment of officers in the state.

“I don’t think this case is representative of the Highway Patrol or law enforcement agencies,” he said.

Grant, who escaped after being hit, testified he spent three weeks on crutches but never saw a doctor. He is currently in jail for failing to pay child support.

Garren has been suspended since his federal indictment in June. State officials said Friday. Public Safety Department spokesman Sid Gaulden declined to comment on whether Garren would be reinstated as a trooper.

Garren’s trial was the first of two federal civil rights cases to come from a spate of police videos that showed questionable tactics by South Carolina troopers. The videos and how supervisors treated the officers on them brought the ousters of the heads of the Highway Patrol and Department of Public Safety earlier this year.