South Carolina Trooper Accused of Excessive Force Stands Trial

A federal jury that must decide whether a South Carolina state trooper deliberately rammed a fleeing suspect with his patrol car watched a video of the incident Tuesday, and heard the officer bragging about the collision.

Attorneys for Lance Cpl. Steven Garren, however, argued that the trooper tried to avoid hitting Marvin Grant, who was running from police after a traffic stop in June 2007.

The officer's dashboard camera captured the chase and shows Grant flipping over the patrol car's hood as he is struck. As the jury watched the footage, the sound of sirens and images of flashing police lights filled the courtroom.

Garren is charged with using unreasonable force and depriving Grant of his civil rights. Garren is white; Grant is black.

If convicted, the suspended officer could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

During testimony, two Greenwood County sheriff's deputies who responded to the chase said Garren boasted about hitting Grant. Sgt. Derrick Smith recalled asking the trooper about striking the suspect.

"I nailed the (expletive) out of him," Smith said the trooper told him. "Yeah, I was trying to."

The other deputy, Brad Ware, said he called his supervisor because he was worried Grant may have been injured.

The trooper's attorney, John O'Leary, said Grant wasn't injured and the officer was just doing his job.

"He was pursuing a criminal and now they want to make him a criminal," O'Leary told jurors. "There was no way — no way — he could have avoided hitting him."

O'Leary said Garren was only trying to protect the public from Grant, who had led officers on a brief high-speed chase before he jumped out of his car and fled.

"This has been a political issue. This has been a media issue," O'Leary said.

Garren's trial is the first of two federal civil rights trials 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.