Crime & Public Safety

Bluffton officer says he doesn’t remember drunken fight, offenses that led to arrest, investigation says

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.

A Bluffton Police sergeant told investigators he does not remember details about the night his own department arrested him after he injured himself and a fellow officer — not until the moment he was sitting in the back of a police car with a bloody nose, according to a newly released internal investigation report.

Former Sgt. Brady Lee — who was charged with public disorderly conduct on Feb. 24 after he drunkenly assaulted fellow off-duty officers at a local bowling alley and attempted to climb out of a patrol car window — was on paid administrative leave pending the internal investigation before he resigned Monday, March 11.

The internal investigation was completed and sent to Chief Chris Chapmond for review on March 5.

Investigators found that Lee had violated five of the department’s codes of conduct.

The investigation was led by Capt. Joseph Babkiewicz and Lt. Kelly McCauley, who interviewed Lee, Station 300 employees, the off-duty officers who were hanging out with Lee the night he was arrested, the officers who reported to the scene, and the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office sergeant who was called to the department.

Lee was under the influence of alcohol and prescribed pills during the incident, according to the report. He told investigators he had consumed “about 4 to 5 glasses of whiskey” and had taken medication.

Information about the type and amount of medication he had taken was redacted from the report. The report did say the prescription label warns patients against mixing the medicine with alcohol.

The two off-duty officers who were with Lee that night said he began “acting different the minute they got into the parking lot at Station 300,” and that he kept wandering away from the group the entire time they were there, the report said.

At one point, a waitress helped Lee — who had been stumbling as he walked — over to the booth where the officers were sitting and he “flopped down.” After that, the staff was told not to serve Lee any alcohol, the report said.

Witnesses said other patrons in the bowling alley began pointing at Lee and taking photos of him because he was “slumping over” and “kept passing out.”

Before the officers started walking Lee outside to get him a ride, the bowling alley’s manager told them, “If it wasn’t for who (Lee) is (a Bluffton officer), I would have already called the cops,” the report said.

When the off-duty officers guided Lee toward the exit, where another on-duty officer they had called was waiting for them, “It seemed like someone flipped (a) switch.”

Lee began fighting one of the officers, “latching onto him,” “hanging from his throat,” and tearing his shirt until they both fell to the ground. As the officer helped Lee back up, Lee punched him repeatedly in the head and face as a group of people stood by and watched, the report said.

That officer had injuries on his hand, arm, and knee from the fight, according to photographs and interviews in the report.

The injured officer did not require medical treatment for his injuries and Lee was not charged with assault because the officer did not wish to file charges, Bluffton Police spokesperson Capt. Joseph Babkiewicz said Friday afternoon.

During the scuffle, an bystander called 911 and three other officers were dispatched to Station 300.

The off-duty officers who were already there handcuffed Lee and got him into the back of the police car, the report said. The on-duty officer then drove to the nearby Subway without notifying dispatch or her fellow on-duty officers.

Babkiewicz said the officer not notifying dispatch or other officers did not violate any department protocols.

She then took off Lee’s handcuffs and allowed him to sit in the front seat, where he “snatched” her cellphone from her and sat on it, the report said.

When two other on-duty officers arrived at the Subway, Lee tried to climb out of the passenger seat window. The officers then handcuffed him again because he was “resisting” being put back into the car and threatening to fight them.

The officer drove Lee to the Bluffton Police Department, located about a fifth of a mile away, where he began “acting very aggressive,” causing the car to rock, yelling out the window, smashing his nose against a bar in the backseat, and spitting at people.

At least two captains, a lieutenant, a sergeant, and five officers were at the department during this time, according to a supplement report about the incident.

After refusing to take a breathalyzer test, which the chief had ordered him to do, Lee was transported to the Beaufort County Detention Center and charged with public disorderly conduct.

Babkiewicz said Lee was not immediately fired because the department conducts full investigations before taking such action.

Sections of the Code of Conduct that Lee was found to have violated, according to the investigation:

“All employees of the Department shall conduct themselves in a professional manner while on duty and off.”

“No employee shall violated any S.C. State Laws while on duty or off.”

“Any course of conduct that indicates an employee of the department has little or no proper regard for his/her obligation as an employee of the Bluffton Police Department will be deemed misconduct and will be grounds for dismissal.”

“Employees shall treat superior officers, subordinates and associates with respect. They shall be courteous and civil at all times with each other even if off duty.”

“Any employee convicted of a misdemeanor will be subject to disciplinary action with the possibility of termination for cause.”

State law requires police departments to report misconduct to the S.C. Justice Academy, which makes that information available to police departments researching job candidates and lessens the odds that officers with histories of misconduct get hired by other police agencies, said Jackie Swindler, director of the academy, previously told The Island Packet.

The Academy has been advised of Lee’s resignation, Chief Chapmond previously said.

A call to the Academy on Friday morning was not returned.

Lee, who had been with the department for seven years, had received the Bluffton Police Department’s Life-Saving Award and Officer of the Year Award in 2014.

Babkiewicz said the department “is still looking into” whether any other officers will face disciplinary action as a result of what occurred the night Lee was arrested.

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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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