S.C. trooper says he 'couldn't avoid' suspect
By Jim Davenport
GREENVILLE, S.C. — A South Carolina state trooper accused of deliberately running down a suspect with his cruiser said Wednesday the crash was "an unavoidable accident" and that he regretted bragging about it afterward.
"It's a collision that I'm sorry took place," Lance Cpl. Steven Garren said on the second day of his federal trial.
Garren is charged with using unreasonable force and depriving suspect Marvin Grant of his civil rights. Garren is white; Grant is black. A conviction could bring Garren up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The trial hinges on a key video of the collision that shows Grant sprinting from the patrol car, then being hit and flipping over the hood. On the recording, Garren says to a deputy: "Yeah, I hit him. I was trying to hit him."
Garren said his statements embarrassed himself, his family and his department.
"The statement itself is not true. But I did say the statement," he said. "It's just a dumb, stupid statement."
The officer also said Grant ran in front of the cruiser "probably in the blink of an eye."
"It was an unavoidable accident," he said.
But a prosecutor read another statement the trooper gave after the collision: "Hey, I nailed the (expletive) out of him," the prosecutor said, reading from a transcript of the video recording.
"I'm sorry I said that, but it doesn't show my intent," said Garren, whose voice occasionally cracked with emotion.
Earlier in the day, federal prosecutors wrapped up their case with a frame-by-frame analysis of the video.
A witness for the prosecution, crash reconstruction expert Geoffrey Germane, said Garren steered his patrol car twice into Grant's path. When Grant suddenly cut to the right in front of the cruiser, Garren steered the car toward the suspect a second time and hit him, Germane said.
The defense responded with their own experts. One said Garren bragging about hitting the suspect was inappropriate but not surprising for police officers dealing with stress or trauma and another testified that Garren had about a second to react. "He did exactly what I'd expect any driver to do," said Marc Green, an expert in human reaction times.
Garren also challenged testimony Tuesday from a Greenwood County sheriff's deputy who said Garren had told him he intended to hit Grant. Garren said he never spoke with the deputy that night.
Garren's trial is the first of two federal civil rights cases to come from a spate of police videos that showed questionable tactics by South Carolina troopers. The videos and how supervisors treated the officers on them brought the ousters of the heads of the Highway Patrol and Department of Public Safety earlier this year.
Garren was initially suspended for three days. He has been suspended since his federal indictment in June.
The videos have drawn scrutiny from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the state's Legislative Black Caucus, which helped bring the videos to the public's attention.
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