Crime & Public Safety

Judge dismisses charge against Bluffton officer who was arrested after bowling alley brawl

The charge against a former Bluffton police sergeant who was arrested by his own agency and accused of drunkenly assaulting fellow off-duty officers at a local bowling alley in February was dismissed by a judge Thursday morning.

Brady Lee, who worked for the Bluffton Police Department seven years, was written a ticket for public disorderly conduct and booked into the Beaufort County Detention Center on Feb. 24, The Island Packet previously reported.

Lee resigned in lieu of termination, according to documentation from the S.C. Justice Academy, weeks after the incident and just days after an internal investigation found that he violated five of the department’s codes of conduct.

The 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office — which typically does not prosecute misdemeanor cases at the magistrate level — prosecuted the case because the Town of Bluffton and Bluffton Police Department asked it to do so, Solicitor’s Office spokesperson Jeff Kidd said.

Typically, cases like Lee’s would be prosecuted by a town attorney or the officer who issued the ticket.

Lee’s defense attorneys, John Rakowsky and Tabor Vaux, argued the charge should be dismissed because the crime was not “freshly committed or committed in the presence of a law enforcement officer,” which is required by S.C. law when a uniform traffic ticket is written during an arrest on a misdemeanor offense in the jurisdiction of a magistrates court.

According to a timeline presented in court, the violation occurred at 10:30 p.m., and the ticket was signed by Lt. Joe George more than three hours later.

George, who was the only person to testify in court Thursday, said he did not witness the incident but received a call around 1 a.m. or 1:30 a.m. to come to the Bluffton Police station, where Lee was in custody. Once there, he said he conducted an investigation by speaking with officers who were present during the violation then signed the ticket.

George said that, because Lee was a current Bluffton Police officer, investigators attempted to get another law enforcement agency, such as the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, to take over the case. They were unable to do so that night.

The command staff decided to have the supervising officer, George, be listed as the arresting officer on the paperwork instead of officers who witnessed the violation because they were equal to or lower in rank than Lee, Bluffton Police spokesperson Capt. Joe Babkiewicz said Thursday.

“We wanted our supervisor to handle it,” Babkiewicz said. “Typically, we don’t want to be put in that situation, but, unfortunately, having another agency look into it was not an option that night.”

In the end, Bluffton Magistrate Court Judge Jose Fuentes dismissed the charge, saying the arresting officer should have obtained an arrest warrant instead of issuing a ticket.

Although it’s possible that Lee could be indicted at the general sessions level, the state usually only pulls charges up from the magistrate court to general sessions if it’s attached to a felony charge, Kidd said. Lee’s charge was a misdemeanor.

Lee would not comment on Thursday.

Rakowsky also would not comment, saying only, “The facts in the courtroom speak for themselves.”

Related stories from Hilton Head Island Packet

Lana Ferguson has reported on a smorgasbord of 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’s daily newspaper.
Support my work with a digital subscription