Racial accusations erupt at Darlington council meeting
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
A former Darlington mayor, a former City Council member and a current council member all accused Darlington’s government and law-enforcement system of racism and corruption during City Council’s July 12 meeting.
The accusations by former mayor Gloria Hines, former councilwoman and onetime mayoral candidate Carolyn Bruce and current council member Sheila Baccus led to a near-meltdown that nearly derailed the meeting and led to a warning by Baccus that violence might result from Darlington’s racial tensions.
As Mayor Curtis Boyd tried to shut down Baccus’ comments — “We’re not going to play that game tonight, OK? We don’t know what the situation was” — Baccus pointed a finger at each of the white men at the front of the council chamber. “Let me say this to you, and you, and you, and you and you. … You can hide it all you want, but nobody is going to put up with it. … When the bullets start flying because black people are not going to tolerate this … don’t act like you don’t know.”
The flashpoint for the confrontation was a June 22 incident at the Darlington Wal-Mart’s gas station and, a short time later, at the Darlington IGA supermarket. Bruce, addressing the entire council, said an “enraged” white man at the gas station harassed and threatened her two sisters, her 79-year-old mother and her 4-month-old niece while hurling racial and sexual slurs at them. Bruce said the man then followed her sisters to the IGA and continued to act in a threatening way.
Darlington police were called, but did not arrest the man immediately, Bruce said. “When the police got involved, his hostile behavior did not stop and he had no fear he would be arrested,” she said.
He was arrested two days later and Bruce’s sister was notified when his bond hearing would be held. But staffers at the county jail, Bruce said, held a “special” bond hearing for him in advance of the scheduled bond hearing, and he was freed on bond a few hours after being arrested.
Bruce alleged that the man got special treatment – not being arrested immediately and later being given an early bond hearing – because of his race and because he repeatedly told police officers and jail staffers he was friends with Darlington City Manager John Payne.
Hines told council it was “very disturbing” to think that the suspect got special treatment by dropping Payne’s name, and Baccus decried “the fact that the city manager’s name can be used to promote racial hatred.”
Payne told council that he had no involvement in the case and that to say otherwise was a “bald-faced lie.”
“This is a weak and feeble attempt to paint me as something I’m not,” Payne told council. “I know this person (who was arrested), but I know probably half the people in this town.”
Payne added, “I have never told anybody to drop my name. And to insinuate that I did is a bald-faced lie. … I am not involved in this whatsoever. … I have had nothing to do with this. … Any attempt to summon my name based on this is lazy and irresponsible.”
Baccus told Payne, “You’re talking to the wrong person! You better talk to your friend!”
In their remarks to council, Bruce, Hines and Baccus repeatedly mentioned Payne’s name, alleging this shows a good-old-boy system at work. Bruce said: “Mayor Boyd, is this the procedure that is followed for all citizens when they are arrested? Do we all get to drop the name of a person in power, and a phone call is made, and we are released?”
Bruce added: “You know that I’m not one to play the race card. But tonight, I truly believe that if it was a black man’s actions toward three white women and a white baby, the police officers would have done their job. At the very least, he would have been arrested on the scene. I know he wouldn’t have been given a special bond hearing and released from jail within two hours.”
Hines, who lost the mayor’s post to Boyd in 2019, said: “There are a lot of things that are happening around Darlington that are very racial. I’ve never known Darlington to be this racial as it has become in the last four months.”
Hines told Payne, “We don’t want you to be labeled as a bad city manager, and right now, you are.”
Darlington Police Chief Kelvin Washington was at council’s July 12 meeting, but at no point did anyone on council ask him to clarify any of the issues raised by Bruce. Washington told the News & Press he would have done so if asked.
In an interview after the meeting, Washington denied that anyone from his agency gave the suspect any type of special treatment either because of his race or his purported ties to Payne. Washington said he specifically asked the officers on scene if they were influenced in any way by the suspect’s claim of friendship with Payne; they said no.
Why was the suspect not initially arrested? Washington said the officers on scene made what they felt was the best decision with the facts they had. After a review of the case, and a consultation with the city attorney, Washington said, it was decided to arrest the man and charge him with breach of peace. He said the man, a Darlington resident, apparently had no prior relationship with the Bruce family and didn’t know them.
Washington said he was in “constant communication with the family the entire time” about the case. Washington could not address Bruce’s allegation about a “special” bond hearing for the suspect, since the county jail is operated by the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office, not the police department. But he said no one from the police department asked for such a hearing.
Maj. David Young, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said that the DCSO is not involved in arranging bond hearings. He said that if this “special” bond hearing took place, it would have been arranged by Darlington city court. “We just house them,” he said of inmates at the county jail. “That’s all we do.”