COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Diabetes and a cascade of misunderstandings led to the arrest last week of South Carolina NAACP President Lonnie Randolph on charges of refusing to pay his dry cleaning bill and fighting with officers, Randolph’s lawyer said Wednesday.
Interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago agreed that Randolph’s medical problem likely led to him not listening to officers and said he expects a judge will drop the misdemeanor charges.
Columbia police were called Friday to Tripp’s Cleaners by an employee who said Randolph wouldn’t pay for his clothes and wouldn’t leave. Officers said Randolph didn’t answer their initial questions and looked frantic as he rifled through his pockets, according to a police report.
Officers said they took Randolph, 63, outside and told him he should not re-enter the store or he would face trespassing charges. Police said he yelled that he did not understand and the officers decided to arrest him. The officers said Randolph struggled, so they forced him to the ground and then struck him in the chest when he refused to get in the patrol car. Randolph ended up with a busted lip, police said.
All of that can be explained by Randolph’s diabetes, which can leave him confused and disoriented, attorney Joe McCullough said in a written statement.
“The report and video depict a person in distress — which was misinterpreted at the time. This incident is the result of a cascade of misunderstandings and the individuals involved not recognizing the diabetic condition,” McCullough said.
The manager of the dry cleaners refused to talk about the incident.
Santiago said Randolph is a friend and he knows about Randolph’s medical problems. After reviewing video of the incident he agreed that Randolph was under distress from his diabetes.
But he also said his officers acted properly by arresting Randolph because they did not know about his illness and didn’t know if he might be a threat to himself or others.
“The officers saw someone who appeared to be aggressive. They had to do what is necessary,” Santiago said.
Randolph was not taken to jail. Instead, Santiago told officers over the phone about Randolph’s medical problems and told them to ticket Randolph and release him. He was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Santiago said Randolph didn’t get special treatment because of their friendship. He said people suffering from medical conditions often are not booked at the jail. Santiago said the officers contacted him once they realized Randolph was a public figure and his arrest would attract media attention.
Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson was eating dinner nearby and also came to the scene to see if she could help, authorities said.
Randolph was spending this week in Florida at the national convention for the NAACP.
Randolph, who works as an optometrist, has led the South Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for 10 years. Before that, he spent eight years directing the Columbia chapter, organizing an economic boycott of the state because the Confederate flag flew atop the Statehouse dome until 2000.
Randolph is known for his tart tongue. He frequently reminds people that he thinks Confederate leaders were terrorists not much different from the Nazis and should not be revered.
“The Germans had a heritage too,” Randolph said in 2010 before a ball was held to celebrate the 150th anniversary of South Carolina leaving the union. “Why does South Carolina and America think this is the right thing to do?”
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