ROCKINGHAM — A constitutional attorney says it appears deputies with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office had no probable cause to initiate an arrest that was live streamed by the defendant on social media.
“The video and audio of the incident do not depict anything done by Stephen Sings that should have resulted in the charges that are pending against him,” said John W. Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, based in Charlottesville, Virginia, after reviewing a video and reading media accounts of the arrest.
Sings, of Charlotte, is facing a dozen charges, including two felony assault charges and five misdemeanor resisting charges.
He went live on Facebook Friday night while trying to find a deputy to ask why his son had been arrested at Richmond Senior High School during the 4AA West regional championship game against Vance High School. (Sings goes by Stephen Black on the social media site.)
When he found the deputy and posed the question, the deputy refused to answer, according to the video. Sings insisted it was his “duty” to talk to him. At that point, the deputy told Sings to put his hands behind his back.
“Prior to being ordered to put his hands behind his back, which was almost certainly for handcuffing, Sings had only approached the officer and asked about the arrest of his son, and continued to insist on a response after the officer refused,” Whitehead said. “Nothing Sings did that is depicted on the video or audio indicate he assaulted the officer, resisted them or was disorderly such that the officer(s) had grounds to submit to handcuffing.”
According to Whitehead, the order given by the deputy for Sings to put his hands behind his back constituted an arrest and there appears to be no probable cause.
None of the charges against Sings are supported by his pre-arrest conduct, as shown on the video, Whitehead added.
“Unless the officer(s) had some other ground for arresting him, which is never indicated on the audio and is not the subject of a separate charge made against him, Sings was arrested without probable cause in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment and under state law,” Whitehead said in his analysis of the case.
The attorney added that the fact that Sings used force to resist what he sees as an unlawful arrest does not justify the officers’ conduct.
“North Carolina cases clearly recognize that every person has the right to resist an unlawful arrest,” Whitehead said. “In such case, the person attempting the arrest stands in the position of a wrongdoer and may be resisted by the use of force, as in self-defense. A person may use only such force as reasonably appears to be necessary to prevent the unlawful restraint of his liberty.”
According to Whitehead, the video and audio recording “do not show one way or another whether Sings’ use of force in resisting the arrest was reasonable.”
The attorney stipulates that the deputies may have also violated the Fourth Amendment in another way: by employing excessive force.
“Here, it could be argued that any force employed by the police was excessive because they had no justification for arresting Sings,” Whitehead said.
Shortly after the altercation began, Sings dropped his phone which was picked up by Sings’ other son, who continued to record. The video appears to show Sings being tazed and punched several times.
Two deputies were also injured during the arrest, court documents show.
“Also, Sings was entitled to use reasonable resistance and so the officers’ use of force to overcome that such resistance would not be constitutionally reasonable.”
That determination could be made soon, as the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation is reviewing “any and all available video of the incident and the actions of all involved,” an agency spokesperson told the RO on Tuesday.
The SBI was brought in at the request of Sheriff James Clemmons and District Attorney Reece Saunders for “transparency and seeking the truth,” Clemmons said.
According to the agency spokesperson, the SBI will complete its investigation and turn its findings over to the DA’s office for review.
Sings and his son, Stephen Kernal Sings — who is charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly calling a school employee a “white racist b—h,” followed by “F— you!” — are scheduled to appear in court Jan. 2.
All defendants facing criminal charges are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.