Cherokee Co. Sheriff Mueller addresses picture of arrest circulating on social media

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CHEROKEE COUNTY, SC (WSPA) – The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office held a news conference Friday in regard to a recent picture of an arrest they made last month that has been circulating on social media.

On Thursday, the sheriff’s office released a statement in regard to the photo.

According to the statement, a local pastor reached out to Sheriff Steve Mueller about the picture they had seen on social media, and the Command Staff at the sheriff’s office started the process to investigate the validity of the picture to determine the officer involved, the date, the time and the location of the incident that was portrayed in the picture.

The sheriff’s office said the incident happened on May 9 at around 12:40 p.m. on SC-105, or Wilkinsville Highway, and East Junior High School Road in regard to a person in a disabled vehicle that had been involved in a hit-and-run crash down Wilkinsville Highway near Chestnut Ridge Road.

According to the statement, the man was threatening several people at the scene and when officers arrived they found the man to be “very intoxicated.”

“The deputies detained the suspect in handcuffs without any incident. The suspect was placed into the front seat of a patrol vehicle awaiting arrival of SC Highway Patrol to investigate the collision. While in the patrol vehicle the suspect became belligerent and began to strike his head against communications equipment in the patrol vehicle. At this point officers removed the suspect from the patrol vehicle and asked him to sit on the ground in front of the patrol vehicle. Another patrol vehicle was summoned to the scene as it was equipped with a prisoner transport system.

While awaiting arrival of the other patrol vehicle, the suspect continued to be belligerent and refused to comply with officers’ directives. The suspect was then taken to the ground and while on the ground the suspect continued to kick in the direction of the officers. Officers used a set of ankle cuffs and another set of cuffs to restrain the suspect to prevent him from further kicking the officers. At no time was a hog tie device (aka Ripp/Hobble device) used to restrain the suspect as some have insinuated on social media. Officers only used approved restraint devices; officers are prohibited from using a hog tie device that is available on the market.

The suspect continued to be combative and one officer placed his right foot on the suspects left arm between the elbow and bicep. The officer’s foot or heel rested on the bicep area of the arm and the toe of his boot extended onto a portion of his back. At no time did the officer use his foot on the suspects head or neck area which some have suggested after seeing the picture on social media. We have provided a much better angle of a photograph from the incident that shows the placement of the officer’s foot and clearly shows the placement of his foot on the suspect.”

Photo taken from body camera footage of the incident that was provided by the Cherokee Co. Sheriff’s Office

“We clearly under the climate in our community and our nation in regard to law enforcement and the tactics law enforcement use during an arrest, ” according to the release. “First let me say clearly this incident should not even remotely be compared to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. That incident was repulsive and should have never resulted in the loss of a human life.

As your Sheriff, I want to clearly get out in front of this incident and share information that provides some context and much needed clarity in regards to the picture circulating on social media. The posting of that picture has allowed people to write or share false and inaccurate information. Our goal is to be transparent and share facts and relevant information with our community to avoid persons posting or sharing false narratives on social media.”

According to the release, an internal review of the incident has begun and will be conducted.

7 News was there for a press conference on Friday as the Cherokee County sheriff cleared things up.

“This incident in this photograph is not even on the same planet as what took place in Minnesota,” Sheriff Steve Mueller said.

The picture, taken in Cherokee County on May 9th, has recently gotten a lot of attention on social media.

“It does look like he’s standing on his neck if you didn’t exactly know what he was standing on,” Breanna Pitts said.

“I’ve got a black husband and a black son who’s 14 and I worry about them,” Anitrell Smith said. “I feel like they could’ve done it a different way. Maybe bent down and held their hand on him.”

The sheriff’s office quickly conducted a thorough internal review and learned the deputy’s foot was on the man’s arm and back, not on his neck or head.

“It really bothered me, as the sheriff, when I saw folks who took a picture without any explanation and started talking about rioting and burning our city down,” Sheriff Mueller said.

Mueller told 7 News the man in custody was a hit-and-run suspect, and was intoxicated and combative at the time of his arrest.

They interviewed the deputy involved as well as the suspect.

“He shared with us that he was absolutely not a victim of any police brutality,” Mueller said.

Sheriff Mueller now has a message for the community.

“I don’t want our citizens to post negative things about law enforcement based off a photograph that had no truth behind it,” Mueller said.

The sheriff said he and his team are working diligently to make sure nothing like what happened in Minneapolis ever happens in Cherokee County.

“There are officers out here everyday doing the right thing,” Sheriff Mueller said. “They are trying to make a difference in their community and they want to be those agents of change.”

No wrongdoing was found in this case, but Sheriff Mueller said, any time criminal activity is suspected by an officer, they contact the state’s law enforcement division for an investigation immediately.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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