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Ex-SC jail guard to plead guilty to federal charge

COLUMBIA (AP) — A former South Carolina guard has agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge in a case connected to the jailhouse beating of a handcuffed homeless man, according to court documents.

The documents filed last week show Robin Smith is scheduled to plead guilty Dec. 18 in federal court in Columbia to one count of using excessive force. He faces a possible 10-year prison sentence and $250,000 in fines.

Smith, 38, was working as a guard at the Richland County jail when Robert Sweeper III was arrested in February on charges of trespassing at the University of South Carolina.

Sweeper, 52, was incoherent and was placed in a suicide watch cell, according to court documents. In the plea agreement, Smith admitted that he went into Sweeper’s cell, twisted his arm and kicked him.

“Mr. Sweeper was not combative and posed no threat to Defendant Smith,” according to the plea agreement. “There was no legitimate law enforcement purpose for Defendant’s level of force.”

Several days later, Sweeper was taken to a hospital, where he spent months recuperating from his injuries.

Smith was fired, and county-level assault charges against him are still pending. Several other guards were disciplined for not telling officials about the beating.

As part of his federal plea agreement, federal prosecutors say they will recommend that Smith not be prosecuted for any state crimes related to the same case, although local authorities aren’t bound by that agreement. Smith’s lawyer said Monday he did not want to comment on the case.

Sweeper has sued the county, seeking money to cover his medical bills. Court records show that he is set to go to trial next month on the trespassing charge.

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