Permit issued for Keith Small rally

Published 10:16 pm Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Crime Scene Investigators examine evidence Wednesday evening at the scene of an undercover drug purchase that sent Keith Small to the hospital. (WDN File Photo/ Mona Moore)

Supporters of a Washington man hospitalized during a recent attempted arrest will convene on the courthouse steps July 28.  A city permit for the rally was issued to Beaufort County NAACP branch president Bill Booth.

According to Booth, the community rally will be held in support of Keith Maurice Small and to protest what some believe was the use of excessive force by local law enforcement officers.

Small was injured during a June 6 operation conducted by the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Unit. The sheriff’s office denies any wrongdoing in the incident.

According to a statement released the same night, investigators interrupted an alleged drug deal between Small and another man on Van Norden Street.

Investigators tried to detain Small after they saw him attempt to swallow bags of suspected drugs, resulting in a struggle inside Small’s GMC Yukon, according to the press release.

Investigators said they realized Small was having trouble breathing, called Washington EMS and administered first aid, including the Heimlich Maneuver and chest compressions.

On the scene, Washington EMS removed a plastic bag containing suspected cocaine from Small’s throat, according to the statement. Small was airlifted to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville from Vidant Beaufort Hospital.

A subsequent internal investigation by the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office cleared the investigators involved of any wrongdoing. At the time, the Northeastern District of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, as well as the Judicial District 2 District Attorney’s Office, were consulted and both declined to initiate parallel investigations into the incident, said Major Kenneth Watson, sheriff’s office spokesman.

Booth said life-saving measures should not have resulted in Small’s injuries, including broken ribs and a crushed trachea. Small was in a coma for several weeks and remains hospitalized, Booth said.

“We aren’t condoning (Small’s) actions,” Booth said during a phone interview last week. “But it was blatant police brutality.”

Since the incident, a group of community members has met every Tuesday at Mt. Hebron Church of Christ (Disciples of Christ) to discuss an organized response, said Sheila Carroway, supportive services advocate with Metropolitan Community Health Services.

“We’re not trying to be radical — we just want justice served,” Carroway said. “We just want people to know you can’t mistreat people. You have a duty not to mistreat people if you’re in a position of power.”

The rally will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the corner of Van Norden and Fifth streets where the incident occurred. From there, participants will march to the Beaufort County courthouse on Second Street between Market Street and Union Alley, Carroway said.

“If any organization would like to rally in support of Keith Small and his family in his time of need, that is admirable,” said Watson. “But if people are saying that this was a case of police brutality, we adamantly disagree.”

The rally permit, issued to Booth by the Washington Police Department, authorizes a gathering of up to 200 persons from 10 a.m. until noon on July 28.

Representatives from the NAACP and other community organizers are slated to meet with Major Watson next week to address concerns and sheriff’s office procedure during arrests.