US & Canada

Mistrial declared in ex-police chief on murder charge

First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, left, shows defendant Richard Combs the weapon he used to shoot Bernard Bailey during Combs" testimony, 9 January 2015 Image copyright AP
Image caption Richard Combs said he only shot as a last resort

A South Carolina judge has declared a mistrial in the case of a former police chief who killed an unarmed black man, with a jury deadlocked.

Former Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs shot and killed Bernard Bailey after an argument over a citation.

Prosecutor David Pascoe said nine out of 12 jurors voted to convict Mr Combs and he would try the case again.

Defence lawyers argued Mr Combs fired in self-defence as he was trying to arrest Mr Bailey.

Mr Combs was the third white police officer indicted in 2014 in a shooting of an unarmed black man in the state.

And his indictment came amid two similar US high-profile cases in which officers were not charged.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Bernard Bailey's family has received a wrongful death settlement from the town

The failure of grand juries to indict white police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, over the deaths of black men caused nationwide protests.

The shooting in South Carolina came in 2011 after Mr Bailey visited Eutawville town hall to complain about a traffic citation his daughter had received six weeks earlier for a broken tail-light.

Mr Combs attempted to arrest Bailey on an obstruction of justice charge. Mr Bailey left the town hall and Mr Combs pursued him back to his vehicle.

Mr Pascoe said Mr Bailey was then "gunned down in an absolutely senseless act of violence" and shot three times as he simply backed out to escape an escalating situation.

During the closing statement, the prosecutor said Mr Combs frequently changed his story to match the evidence and the ex-police chief was confident he would never be held responsible for killing Mr Bailey because he was an officer.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Bailey's daughter Briana testified during the trial
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Bailey had arrived at the town hall to discuss a traffic citation

But defence lawyers said Mr Combs had the right to enforce an arrest warrant and only fired to save himself because he was caught in Mr Bailey's lorry as it began to back up.

The police chief was placed on leave after the 2011 shooting, and the town fired him six months later.

Mr Bailey's family reached a $400,000 (£265,000) wrongful death settlement with the town last August.

The jury of seven black and five white South Carolina residents deliberated for 12 hours before telling Judge Edgar Dickson they were deadlocked.

Mr Pascoe said he would evaluate the case but expected to bring Mr Combs to a new trial.

"I'm going to take a little time, but we're going forward."

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