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By Meg Kinnard
The Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina Highway Patrol trooper who was caught on video ramming a suspect with his patrol car was indicted Tuesday on a federal civil rights charge, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Steve C. Garren was indicted by a federal grand jury in Greenville on a charge of willfully depriving a man of his constitutional right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer, authorities said. Garren is white; the suspect he rammed is black.
State and federal authorities began investigating the highway patrol in March after videos emerged that showed troopers using a racial epithet and ramming their cruisers into fleeing suspects. The head of the patrol, as well as the head of the agency that oversees it, both resigned in February amid charges of racism among troopers. The investigations continue.
Garren was placed on suspension without pay immediately, said Mark Keel, who was confirmed last week as director of the Department of Public Safety. Garren had also been suspended for two days after the 2007 incident.
It was not immediately clear if Garren, who is from Greenwood, had an attorney. Keel and the U.S. Attorney's Office said they did not know, and a home listing for Garren could not be found.
Black lawmakers and Gov. Mark Sanford criticized the patrol after a four-year-old video emerged showing an officer using a derogatory term for blacks while pursuing a suspect on foot. Several weeks later, the patrol released more videos showing troopers using their cars to ram fleeing suspects.
"You better run," the officer yells in the first video released, using a slur, "because I'm fixin' to kill you."
If convicted, Garren faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
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Walt Wilkins, recently confirmed as U.S. Attorney for South Carolina, did not say if more indictments would be forthcoming investigations. But he said he anticipated more presentations to the federal grand jury. He also said authorities would work to identify other possible federal cases.