COLUMBIA — Diabetes and a “cascade of misunderstandings” led to the arrest of South Carolina NAACP President Lonnie Randolph on charges of refusing to pay his dry-cleaning bill and fighting with officers, Randolph’s lawyer said Wednesday.
Columbia police were called Friday to Tripp’s Fine Cleaners by an employee who said Randolph wouldn’t pay for his clothes and wouldn’t leave. Officers said Randolph didn’t answer their initial questions and looked frantic as he rifled through his pockets, according to a police report.
Officers said they took Randolph, 63, outside and told him he should not re-enter the store or he would face trespassing charges. Police said he yelled that he did not understand and the officers decided to arrest him. The officers said Randolph struggled, so they forced him to the ground and then struck him in the chest when he refused to get in the patrol car.
All of that can be explained by Randolph’s diabetes, which can leave him confused and disoriented, attorney Joe McCullough said in a written statement.
“The report and video depict a person in distress — which was misinterpreted at the time. This incident is the result of a cascade of misunderstandings and the individuals involved not recognizing the diabetic condition,” McCullough said.
The manager of the dry cleaners refused to talk about the incident.
Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson and interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago came to the scene of the arrest. Randolph was not taken to jail. Instead, Santiago told officers to ticket Randolph and release him. He was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
McCullough said he and Randolph are cooperating with police
Randolph was spending this week at the national convention for the NAACP in Florida. He has led the South Carolina branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for 10 years. Before that, he spent eight years directing the Columbia chapter, organizing an economic boycott of the state because the Confederate flag flew atop the Statehouse dome until 2000. He works as an optometrist.