For a third consecutive day, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday ducked questions about its general policies on conducting traffic stops and what range of activities might constitute suspicious activity, which it cited as the cause for a Dec. 9 stop that resulted in the shooting of the driver.
Akeem Jenkins, 21, of Hilton Head, was pulled over around 5:45 p.m. Dec. 9 in the Tanger 2 Outlets parking lot near the Nike Factory Store after Sgt. Raymond Heroux observed what has only been described as “suspicious activity.” During the stop, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release, Jenkins put his car in reverse and accelerated, trapping Heroux in the open driver’s side door and dragging him through the parking lot. It was then that Heroux drew his pistol and fired at Jenkins, the release states.
The Sheriff’s Office has since been mostly mum on the incident, even though spokesman Thom Berry of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, which is investigating the incident, said his agency as no objection to the sheriff’s office releasing specific details related to the traffic stop and the events that unfolded afterward.
But not only is the Sheriff’s Office refusing to do that, requests for general information on its policies regarding traffic stops have not been met. The newspapers asked for the information from the Sheriff’s Office on Monday, and made the same requests of three other agencies as well to see how the agencies’ policies compare.
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The Beaufort Police Department immediately provided relevant sections of its General Orders Manual, as did the Bluffton Police Department with information from its Standard Operating Procedure documents. And the S.C. Highway Patrol not only provided relevant portions of its Manual of Operations, but also related policy directives guiding officer conduct during traffic stops.
But the Sheriff’s Office guidelines remain unknown, and the vague reasoning for the stop and missing information about whether Heroux followed protocol that would have provided him the most protection have done nothing to quell questions surrounding the incident.
Deputy conduct is generally covered by the office’s General Orders, which have been requested by the newspaper. On Wednesday, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Capt. Bob Bromage would only say that patrol officers follow the training given to them through the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy.
When asked for examples of what might constitute “suspicious activity,” a traffic safety program instructor at the academy gave several examples.
Relevant behavior “could be a traffic violation like speeding or not having your headlights on at night,” instructor Dale Smith said. “Or (an officer) might have information about a vehicle leaving an area where a crime has been reported. If an officer sees a vehicle that matches that description, they could decide to stop the vehicle.”
Smith added that suspicious behavior can be as simple as “if the occupant (of the vehicle) won’t look at you,” or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as a vehicle parked behind a business that is closed for the night.
Jenkins was injured and flown to Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah after EMS found at least 10 grams of cocaine on his person — enough to charge him with a felony, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
On Wednesday, SLED’s Berry said Jenkins remained at the hospital and will be charged and extradited to Beaufort County upon his release. Heroux was treated for injuries and released from the hospital the same day.