Mystery surrounding federal investigators’ involvement in Rock Hill PD excessive force arrest continues

North Carolina

ROCK HILL, S.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – In a rare move this week, the Rock Hill Police Department chose to give the public a look behind the curtain at a traffic stop involving its Violent Crimes Unit. The look came in the form of body-worn cameras officers wore on scene.

Typically, South Carolina law enforcement agencies keep body camera video recordings secret. And they have the right to do so.

In 2015, South Carolina lawmakers passed a law, signed by then-Governor Nikki Haley, that allowed law enforcement to keep body camera video secret; exempting those recordings from disclosure under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The law doesn’t prevent agencies from turning the video over to the public, but gives agencies the power to pick-and-choose which videos it wants to keep secret.

This still frame clipped from a Rock Hill PD body camera video shows at least one U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations agent on scene with Rock Hill PD officers during the June 23, 2021 traffic stop of Ricky Price. (Source: Rock Hill Police Department)

The Rock Hill PD recordings showed the arrest of Ricky Price. Price was pulled over by an unmarked RHPD Dodge Charger. Inside were two undercover officers – well – officers who were not wearing a uniform that day.

The video also captured another fact likely to have never been disclosed to the public had a witness not video recorded the encounter and the body camera never been released: three U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on scene.

Why they were there is still a mystery.

Even the county’s top prosecutor, Solicitor Kevin Brackett, didn’t know a federal investigation was underway in Rock Hill; even weeks later. “I’m not aware of any federal investigation,” Brackett told reporters at a July 8 press conference. Brackett confirmed there were three “HSI agents” on scene.

This still frame clipped from a Rock Hill Police Department body camera video shows a container of marijuana RHPD Officer Jonathan Moreno found inside the driver’s side door storage compartment of Ricky Price’s Ford Mustang on June 23, 2021. (Source: Rock Hill Police Department)

HSI stands for Homeland Security Investigations, the investigative unit of the Department of Homeland Security. The unit’s mission is to “investigate, disrupt and dismantle terrorist, transnational and other criminal organizations that threaten or seek to exploit the customs and immigration laws of the United States,” according to the ICE website.

The RHPD also made two body camera videos worn by Officer Matthew Palmer and Investigator Jonathan Moreno public on July 8, just weeks after the incident.

Brackett filed a third-degree assault and battery charge against Moreno after body camera video showed Moreno approach Ricky Price’s brother, Travis, on scene and started to use force against him. Brackett said Travis Price was standing collecting his brother’s jewelry from officers as his brother was handcuffed beside a police car.

Officers asked Travis Price to come near to collect the jewelry, according to Brackett, but said a “miscommunication” between Moreno and the other officers ended in Moreno assaulting Travis Price thinking Price was trying to interfere with his brother’s arrest.

This still frame clipped from a Rock Hill Police Department body camera video shows the handgun RHPD Officer Jonathan Moreno pulled from the backseat of Ricky Price’s Ford Mustang during a June 23, 2021 traffic stop. (Source: Rock Hill Police Department)

The investigation cleared all other officers on scene.

The body camera video also showed federal agents standing by as Moreno searched Ricky Price’s car. ICE’s Atlanta public affairs office confirmed agents were on scene when RHPD officers were investigating Price in the traffic stop.

“In this particular case we were working a Street Gang Task Force,” ICE Public Affairs Officer Lindsay Williams told FOX46 Chief Investigator Jody Barr.

“That’s why we were there,” Williams confirmed in a phone call Friday afternoon.

Williams characterized the presence of ICE investigators assisting local law enforcement as something that happens “all the time.” Williams would not confirm any specifics surrounding the work the agents were performing in Rock Hill or why they had an interest in Price.

“The Rock Hill Police Department was lead the agency and was being assisted by Homeland Security Investigations. They were present as a support element,” RHPD Lt. Michael Chavis wrote in an email to FOX46 when asked about the federal agents’ involvement.

Chavis did not respond to follow up questions about why RHPD would need assistance from federal agents in a traffic stop for what appeared to be a minor traffic offense. RHPD confirmed officers stopped Price after he made an illegal turn.

Photos: Ricky Roderick Price (Left) Travis Lamont Price (Right), York County Sheriff’s Office

Price has not been charged with any federal crime connected to the June 23 stop. Price’s brother, Travis, was initially charged with hindering police but prosecutors dropped the charge after reviewing body camera recordings and determined Moreno assaulted Travis Price.

Price was out on bond at the time of the June 23 stop from five offenses stemming from a September 2020 arrest: three counts of distribution of crack cocaine, possession of a stolen handgun, possession of a handgun by a person convicted of a violent offense.

Investigators charged Price with one count of an unlawful right turn, second offense possession of one gram of methamphetamine or cocaine base, second offense manufacturing/possession of narcotics with intent to distribute, unlawfully carrying a weapon, assault on a police officer, and possession of a weapon by a felon.

Court records show the possession of a weapon by a felon charge was dismissed at a July 2 preliminary hearing.

York County jail records show Price is still held without bond.

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