• July 24, 2024

Small Town Facing Bankruptcy After Being Sued For $97.5 Million Over Police Negligence

A mix of shock, joy and uncertainty buzzed in this tiny, rural community Thursday as residents contemplated how the town might pay a court judgment so large it could fund the local budget for the next 162 years.

Mayor Tim Grimsley, a white-bearded Santa Claus figure who drives an old VW van, said business was normal in the wake of a $97.5 million award by a federal jury to the family of a town leader fatally shot by a Cottageville police officer three years ago.

Traffic flows through downtown Cottageville in this 2011 file photo. A jury this week awarded a $97.5 million verdict against the town, where former Mayor Bert Reeves was shot and killed by police officer Randall Price. FILE/GRACE BEAHM/STAFF
Traffic flows through downtown Cottageville in this 2011 file photo. FILE/GRACE BEAHM/STAFF

A federal jury handed down the judgment late Wednesday following a nine-day trial in U.S. District Court in Charleston. The case stemmed from a May 16, 2011, incident in which Randall Price, an officer with a questionable record, shot Reeves in the chest during an argument. Price claimed self-defense, but Reeves’ family alleged negligence in a wrongful-death suit against the town, the police department and Price.

“It’s such an astronomical amount,” Grimsley said outside Town Hall Thursday afternoon. “Everybody I talked to said, ‘Is this for real?’?”

“I plan to go forward,” he said, citing plans to renovate the gym and build a park and a library.

But others weren’t so sure, predicting that the award, if it stands, could send this little burg between Summerville and Walterboro into bankruptcy or worse.

The town has $1 million in coverage through the S.C. Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund. But that likely wouldn’t even pay the interest on any loan they’d find to cover what’s owed to the family of slain former Mayor Bert Reeves.

“I don’t think they’ll ever collect that money because the town doesn’t have any money,” former Town Councilman Jimmy Ramsey said. “I don’t know if we’ll have to go bankrupt, but I’m not sure we’re going to be able to survive as a town either.”

Grimsley said most folks in this of town around 750 people aren’t panicking yet. Many can’t even wrap their heads around the $97.5 million figure, he said. That’s not surprising given the fact that the town’s annual budget is a little less than $600,000.

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