The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division has declined to bring charges against a Charleston police officer who signed a man out of EMS care in August, though the police department has since demoted him to a desk job.
In a report dated April 2, SLED concluded that Nathaniel Rhodes was slipping “in and out” of consciousness at the Charleston Police Department on Aug. 12, 2018. He was later taken to the Medical University of South Carolina, where he died of blunt force trauma to the abdomen four days later.
Officer Paul Kelly had responded to the intersection of Coming Street and the Crosstown Expressway after Rhodes, a 58-year-old husband and father, ran a red light and got hit by a pickup truck earlier that night. Charleston County EMS evaluated Rhodes on scene and documented no complaints or visible injuries, according to the SLED report.
[content-2] Rhodes asked to go the hospital, but when Kelly arrived, he saw an open bottle of alcohol in Rhodes’ car and ordered him to take a field sobriety test, which he failed.
An emergency medical technician told the officer that Rhodes needed to go to the hospital for further evaluation, but Kelly was determined to take him downtown.
“Ofc. Kelly responded that he had gotten burned once on a DUI charge, and he wasn’t letting Rhodes out of his sight,” according to an EMT who spoke to SLED.
Kelly then signed a form refusing hospital care on Rhodes’ behalf.
“Upon review of this file, it is my legal opinion that the officer did not commit misconduct in office,” said Assistant Attorney General Jerrod Fussnecker in a letter to SLED chief Mark Keel dated May 1.
The state’s report, however, suggests that EMS standards were not followed.
“When a patient refuses to be transported to a medical facility, the procedure is to have the patient sign a refusal form that is presented on an electronic signature device,” said Carl Benton, assistant chief of Charleston County EMS, in an interview with investigators. “The form must also have the signature of another person as a witness to acknowledge the patient’s refusal.”
On Wednesday, the Charleston Police Department said that Kelly’s actions violated department policy. He has since been reassigned to a “non-sworn” position.
“The family of Nathaniel Rhodes is pleased that this tragic, unnecessary incident was investigated, albeit after the family had to come forth publicly,” said family attorneys Justin Bamberg and Christy Fargnoli in a joint statement.
Bamberg and Fargnoli shed light on the case in a press conference in February. The attorneys were joined by Rhodes’ widow and daughter, who demanded answers about the officer’s actions as well as unseen body-worn camera video, which the department said was mislabeled and subsequently deleted.
[content-1] “While the investigation’s findings that the officer actions that day were indeed wrong, nothing can ever replace this family’s loss,” Bamberg and Fargnoli said. “It is heartening to know that this officer will be remanded to a desk job, which will potentially save other lives.”
The police department will institute two new policies in response to the incident.
First, officers have been “clearly instructed” to never sign refusal-of-treatment forms. Second, the department has extended the retention period for body-worn camera footage from 30 days to 180 days.
“I am very unhappy with our performance here, and we’ve made policy changes and are also providing additional training to address these issues,” said Charleston police chief Luther Reynolds in a statement. [pdf-1] Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
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