- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

ORANGEBURG, S.C. (AP) - A white ex-police chief told investigators he feared he would be killed when the black man he was trying to arrest started to drive off with the chief caught in the door of his pickup truck.

“I was scared to death,” Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs told investigators just after the May 2, 2011 shooting death of Bernard Bailey. “I was afraid for my life.”

The statement was read in court Thursday during the testimony of Lt. Charles Ghent, the State Law Enforcement Division agent who investigated the shooting.

Combs, on trial for murder, faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted.

The confrontation between the two men began on March 15, 2011, when Combs issued a traffic ticket to Bailey’s daughter for a broken taillight. The daughter, Briana, called her father to the scene. Bailey and Combs argued, but eventually went their separate ways. The police chief got an arrest warrant for Bailey for obstruction. A few days later, Bailey went to Town Hall to argue about his daughter’s ticket. When he showed up, the chief tried to arrest Bailey, a 6-foot-6 former prison guard.

Prosecutors said Bailey marched back to his truck, and Combs tried to get inside to turn off the ignition. The two fought, and Combs shot Bailey, 54, twice in the chest.

Combs said he was tangled in Bailey’s steering wheel and caught in the door and feared for his life if Bailey drove away.

The chief said in his statement that he had obtained a warrant against Bailey for obstruction of justice “because Mr. Bailey was so aggressive at the traffic stop.”

Jurors were shown a dashboard camera video of the March traffic stop.

Although the audio was muddled, there are some words between the two and Combs can be heard telling Bailey to back up and at one point asks him what he has behind his back - he was holding a towel - and asks him if he understands that they are being recorded. No physical confrontation is seen and most of the video simply shows Bailey on his cellphone or standing by his daughter’s car.

Briana testified that her father was calling her mother and the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Department to have a deputy come to the scene.

Combs’ statement said he planned to serve the obstruction warrant on Bailey the day the traffic ticket was to be considered by a town judge. He said he had made arrangements to have officers from other jurisdictions on hand.

Combs, placed on leave after the shooting and dismissed by the town six months later, was the only town policeman.

“I had a duty to serve the warrant,” Combs’ statement said. It added that “Mr. Bailey was angry and upset” and walked out of the town hall when Combs started reading the warrant for his arrest.

Combs followed Bailey outside and when Bailey tried to drive off, tried to reach into the truck to stop the vehicle, the statement said. That’s when the shooting occurred.

Prosecutors introduced Combs’ statement to try to show inconsistencies in his story. In the statement, Combs says he fired twice while hanging onto the door and a third time while falling to the ground. But Ghent told the court that during a hearing last November Combs testified he was falling when he fired all three shots.

In opening statements on Wednesday, Prosecutor David Pasco said Combs tried to arrest Bailey “on a trumped-up warrant.” But during cross-examination on Thursday, Ghent told the jury, “It was signed by a judge. It was a valid warrant.”

Defense witness Brittany Dantzler, the Eutawville town court clerk at the time, testified while she didn’t see the shooting because the truck door blocked her view, she said it looked like Combs was going to be dragged by the truck.

She said after the shots were fired it appeared Combs was getting himself up. On cross examination, she said she didn’t see any physical injuries to the chief.

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