Sheriff says deputies did nothing inappropriate in arrest

March 1, 2019

EFFINGHAM, S.C. — Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone said Thursday that his deputies did nothing inappropriate when they arrested Tyler Fleming of Marion on Feb. 17.

Boone said the investigation of Fleming’s arrest is over. Elder Jerry James, state president for the National Action Network, said the fight for justice for Fleming is just starting and he will take his evidence to the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Fleming, 34, of 227 Johnson St. in Marion, was arrested at a store on East Palmetto Street. During the arrest, Fleming was taken to the ground. Photos appeared later on social media.

Boone made his announcement Thursday morning in a press conference in the lobby of the Florence County Law Enforcement Complex. James spoke as at the podium after Boone and others departed the lobby and again in a brief interview afterward.

“When this incident occurred and the photographs came to our attention we asked our investigative division to open an investigation immediately, that day,” Boone said as he read a prepared statement.

“From the first day we actively sought and requested any video and any other evidence that would show this event,” Boone said. The only video the sheriff’s office had, though, was what was posted to social media. “The only video we have seen is the one posted on social media and that video is even limited.”

“We were waiting for the chief to call the witnesses; he has not spoken to one witness,” said James, who moved to the podium after the sheriff finished and left the lobby. “The witnesses on live TV said they had tape and wanted to talk with him. None of his investigators or himself has called any witnesses.”

Because the sheriff didn’t interview the witnesses they didn’t provide their video to the investigation, James said.

“The sheriff contacted none of the witnesses, not one. How could he come to this conclusion without talking to the people who were there,” James said.

“Our investigation shows the suspect physically resisted the officers’ lawful attempt to arrest, and for the safety of the officers, was taken to the ground until further backup could arrive,” Boone said.

“The officers are shown on the video holding the suspect’s head and his face off the pavement to prevent injury. There was no chokehold; at no time was the suspect struck, hit, punched, kicked or tased,” Boone said.

“In addition the video and audio clearly shows the suspect’s airway was not obstructed and he was able to yell profanities heard a considerable distance away,” Boone said. “When stood up was capable of standing and walking, didn’t request nor was he in need of any medical attention whatsoever.”

James disputes the sheriff’s contention.

“He said Mr. Fleming was cursing,” James said. “Mr. Fleming said they were shouting in his ears racial statement when they had him in a choke hold. That’s why he was shouting F-you. The video will show the choke hold and Mr. Fleming can’t breathe. No it won’t show if they have body cams on, I want them to provide that but they can’t provide it if they were shouting racial statements. If they said Mr. Fleming was threatening to kill them they need to provide that video.”

Jerry Keith Jr. with the Florence Branch of the NAACP issued a statement Thursday that called for an external investigation of the incident.

“South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division just be involved to expel any thought of prejudice of the local sheriff’s internal investigation,” Keith wrote in the statement, which was emailed to Pee Dee media.

“We, also, continue to call for a Citizens Review Board that can respond to this sort of incident with public transparency. This is essential in our city and county of Florence,” Keith wrote in the statement.

Fleming is charged with breach of the peace, resisting arrest and threatening the life of public employees.

“The judicial process will determine these charges,” Boone said. “Our investigation is concluded.”

“We take these matters seriously. The confidence of the public that we discharge our law enforcement duties fairly and impartially is crucial to our mission,” Boone said. “Where we have found wrongdoing we have not hesitate to discipline or charge our own officers criminally.”

“But, in this case, we believe our officers acted appropriately under these circumstances and our deputies did nothing wrong,” Boone said.

The incident started the afternoon of Feb. 17 at a convenience store on East Palmetto Street when Fleming approached two deputies and asked them for a ride to Mullins.

“The subject ignored repeated requests to calm down,” Boone said in a statement released following the incident. “While being detained for further questioning, the subject refused to follow reasonable verbal instructions and resisted officer’s attempts to properly detain him, forcing the officer to take the subject to the ground. The subject continued to resist and threatened to kill the officers involved in the incident. The subject was not injured but was taken into custody.”