SC NAACP chief blames diabetes for Columbia arrest

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The interim Columbia police chief says he believes a medical condition caused the problems that led to the arrest of the president of the South Carolina chapter of the NAACP and he thinks a judge will dismiss the charges.

Officers arrested 63-year-old Lonnie Randolph on Friday at a dry cleaners after he wouldn’t pay his bill, then refused to leave.

Randolph’s lawyer says he was suffering from problems associated with diabetes which can leave him confused and disoriented.

Interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago said Wednesday he considers Randolph a friend and knows of his medical problems.

Santiago says his officers had to use force to arrest Randolph because they did not know about his medical condition and had to make sure he wasn’t a threat to himself or others.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

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 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 in Florida at the national convention for the NAACP in Florida.

Randolph, who works as an optometrist, has led the South Carolina chapter 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.

Randolph is known for his tart tongue. He frequently reminds people that he thinks Confederate leaders were terrorists not much different than the Nazis and should not be revered.

“The Germans had a heritage too,” Randolph said in 2010 before a ball was held to celebrate the 150th anniversary of South Carolina leaving the union. “Why does South Carolina and America think this is the right thing to do?”

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