When South Congaree, S.C., police officer Jason Pruitt showed up to work on Sept. 20, 2003, it was to snag a little overtime and capture a suspect who a few weeks earlier had dumped some dope before fleeing from an officer through the woods.
Using a confidential informant, the officers succeeded in corralling the outstanding suspect, Leavy Costello Rish, at a gas station while the C.I. went inside.
They found Rish kicking back in the front passenger seat of the C.I.'s car, feet atop the dash, and relaxing as much as a guy on meth possibly could. But when they brought him out of the car, Rish was anything but laid back. And by the time the officers got him in cuffs, he'd generated another charge for himself: resisting arrest.
With Rish double-locked in handcuffs in the back seat of Pruitt's caged unit, one officer went through the charade of handcuffing the C.I. to cover her ass and keep Rish from putting two and two together. Pruitt began a search of the vehicle for contraband when a fellow officer got his attention: His prisoner had somehow succeeded in maneuvering his handcuffs to his front and was busy trying to unlock Pruitt's back door.
Pruitt and his partner managed to get Rish out of the vehicle and re-handcuffed him to the rear. Shackling the man's legs, they again secured him in the backseat. Whatever else, it appeared that the fight had been taken out of the guy.
After finishing his inventory of the car, Pruitt re-joined Rish in the patrol unit. Letting his passenger know that he was going to be taken to jail, Pruitt closed the roll bar window and put the car in drive.
I Can't Breathe
No sooner had they pulled out of the parking lot than Pruitt's prisoner started mouthing off. An angry diatribe about how screwed up the officer's police agency was quickly segued into a rant about his personal discomfort.
"Open the window, man." Rish protested. "It's hot."
Pruitt told Rish to hang on and that he'd be out of the backseat soon enough. But with each passing minute, the more adamant Rish's requests became.
"C'mon," Rish pleaded repeatedly, rocking back and forth as much as his restraints would allow. "I can't breathe!"
About a mile-and-a-half from the jail, Rish's histrionics started to get the better of Pruitt. He glanced in the rearview mirror at his prisoner. Dollops of sweat poured down Rish's face and neck, saturating the man's shirt, pooling in his beard, and stinging his eyes. The officer momentarily put himself in Rish's shoes: handcuffed, miserably hot, with no adequate means of wiping the perspiration off his brow.
Pruitt reached back, unlatched the roll bar window, and slid it open so Rish could have some ventilation.
Taking a cool swig from his Mellow Yellow, the officer then turned on the air conditioner.
Without knowing it, he had just made the situation a whole lot hotter.