Screenshot via footage released by CCSD

North Charleston City Councilman Jerome Heyward alleged racial profiling on July 25, the day after a traffic stop in West Ashley by a deputy with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Department (CCSD).

But on Monday, the department exonerated Deputy Leonard Vella of the complaint after an internal review of the midday incident.

“After a careful review of the facts and circumstances surrounding this investigation, the Office of Professional Standards concluded, Mr. Heyward’s recollection of events is inconsistent and not factual,” according to CCSD’s internal assessment of the incident. “Deputy Vella’s actions were justified and within Sheriff’s Office Policy and Procedure. Additionally, Deputy Vella had probable cause to conduct the traffic stop as outlined in the South Carolina Code of Laws. Therefore, Deputy Vella is exonerated.” 

Vella pulled over Heyward July 24 on Savannah Highway for failure to use a turn signal while switching lanes, according to department records. 

In body cam footage released by CCSD Monday, Heyward told the deputy that he was driving a rental car. When Vella repeatedly asked to see the rental car agreement, Heyward was unable to provide the documentation.

The deputy then asked Heyward to exit the vehicle, but Heyward refused several times before exiting, according to the CCSD assessment. Heyward called his sister, Hollywood Town Councilwoman Michelle Heyward-Dunmeyer, during the traffic stop. She advised him to get out of the car, Heyward said in his formal complaint.

Body cam footage shows Heyward asked to move to the shade because of dizziness and dehydration. In the video, another deputy offered him a bottle of water, which he reportedly refused because it was open, and called EMS services. Heyward said the emergency medical technician who responded to the incident made him a “second priority,” according to his written complaint.

Vella confirmed with the rental car company that Heyward was supposed to be in possession of the vehicle until August 16. He then issued Heyward a written warning for failure to use a turn signal.

In an exclusive report of the traffic stop last week, Heyward told the City Paper repeatedly that he didn’t want to discuss the incident.

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