Crime & Public Safety

New report details the night a drunk Bluffton police officer was arrested by his own agency

Dash cam shows drunk Bluffton cop telling another officer to: “Just let me go”

Bluffton Police Sgt. Brady James Lee tells another officer to let him go after being detained for drunkenly fighting outside a bowling alley in Bluffton.
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Bluffton Police Sgt. Brady James Lee tells another officer to let him go after being detained for drunkenly fighting outside a bowling alley in Bluffton.

The Bluffton Police Department arrested one of its own sergeants last month after he drunkenly assaulted fellow off-duty officers at a bowling alley and attempted to climb out of a patrol vehicle window, according to information released by the department Thursday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.

For nearly two weeks the police department has refused to answer questions about the circumstances that led to the arrest of Brady Lee, who was charged with public disorderly conduct in the early hours of Feb. 24. Instead, police would only say that Lee had been placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of an internal investigation.

The department also kept private its initial report of the incident — a report that is typically made available to the public within days.

When asked why the initial report of Lee’s arrest had not been added to the publicly accessible binder in the agency’s lobby — where two weeks of initial reports about incidents involving Bluffton’s citizens are kept — Chief Christopher Chapmond said the report had been held back because of the ongoing investigation and that it was released Thursday because the criminal component of the case had been concluded.

Chapmond did not explain why the release of the initial report involving one of his own officers had been handled differently from reports of similar incidents involving citizens who are not in law enforcement.

Lee, who has been with the department for seven years and received the Bluffton Police Department’s Life-Saving Award and Officer of the Year Award in 2014, was charged with public disorderly conduct Feb. 24.

According to the initial report released Thursday, officers were dispatched to Station 300 in Bluffton at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday for a report of a fight in progress.

The responding officers assessed the situation and felt that “Lee’s gross intoxication posed a potential danger to himself if left in public alone,” the report said.

At least three officers attempted to “de-escalate Lee’s behavior,” which “could be described as increasingly agitated and unpredictable,” the report stated.

Two off-duty officers who were at the scene with Lee prior to the incident detained him and placed him into a patrol car, according to the report.

Due to Lee’s behavior and lack of cooperation, an officer decided to transport him to “a more controlled location” at the Bluffton Police Department “prior to adjusting his restraints,” the report states.

At that time, the officer asked the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office to handle the investigation.

The Sheriff’s Office declined because Lee had already been arrested and removed from the scene, according to Sheriff’s Office Maj. Bob Bromage.

“The offense was committed in their presence, and not in ours,” he said Friday.

Lee sustained a self-inflicted injury to his nose, according to the report, but refused transportation to the hospital for it.

A 911 call and supplemental police report completed March 1 by the officer who ticketed Lee provides more details of the night’s events.

Lee was handcuffed after he pushed one officer and refused to cooperate with other officers on the scene, all while yelling, the report stated.

“I was also advised Lee had passed out while inside the bowling alley twice and when awakened he began yelling and pushing the off-duty officers (who were) with him,” the investigator wrote in the supplemental report.

When other customers in the bowling alley began to notice Lee’s behavior, the manager reportedly asked the off-duty sergeant to leave immediately but he did not.

After being detained by his fellow officers, Lee was placed into a patrol vehicle.

He then attempted to climb out of the front passenger seat window and would not allow officers to properly restrain him, according to the report.

While attempting to interview Lee in the back of the patrol vehicle, the officer noted that Lee “appeared not to be his normal self,” he wrote in the report.

Lee allegedly could not recognize the officer nor remember anything that had happened at Station 300. He repeatedly asked the officer “Why am I handcuffed?” and “Why am I in the back of this patrol vehicle?,” according to the report.

Through an open-records request with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, The Island Packet obtained a 911 call in which a bystander at Station 300 reported a “whole bunch of men” fighting and throwing punches.

He told the dispatcher that a female officer was at the bowling alley and trying to break up the melee, but the men wouldn’t listen to her.

The one-minute call was the only one made to 911 from or near Station 300 the night of Lee’s arrest. The call began and ended just before 10:30 p.m. Feb. 23, according to a Sheriff’s Office call log.

Lee was booked into the jail at 3 a.m. the next day.

Bluffton Police Chief Chapmond declined Friday to answer questions about the case, citing the ongoing internal investigation.

He said the department has requested that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division conduct an independent review of the case to ensure that everything has been handled correctly and that the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office will be handling the criminal case.

Questions that have yet to be answered by the department include:

  • Is Lee receiving treatment not afforded to private citizens because of his association with the police department?
  • How did the department decide on a public disorderly conduct charge as opposed to assault and battery, assaulting an officer or resisting arrest charges?
  • Did the department test Lee for alcohol or drugs the night of the incident?
  • Has Lee been disciplined by the department for similar incidents in the past?

The Bluffton Police Department has come under scrutiny in recent years for a lack of transparency with the public.

In June 2018, the department reversed a recent policy that required the media and public to fill out a form before being allowed to view initial police reports — a violation of South Carolina’s open-records law — according to previous reporting by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.

When Chapmond became chief in September 2018, he emphasized his belief in accountability and keeping public trust.

“Trust is very important, and I want you, the media, and the citizens of Bluffton to understand that we want to continue to build upon the trust that’s already in place and truly take it to the next level,” he said in a press conference at the time.

Chapmond said he expects that his department’s investigation of the incident will be completed by the end of next week.

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Lana Ferguson has covered crime, police, and other news for The Island Packet & Beaufort Gazette since June 2018. Before coming to the Lowcountry, she worked for publications in her home state of Virginia and graduated from the University of Mississippi, where she was editor of the college newspaper.

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