CHESTER, S.C. (WJZY) — The Chester Police chief is out of a job.
The South Carolina city announced Curtis Singleton was fired Wednesday afternoon because his “testimony was not credible” as a prosecution witness during an immunity hearing for a murder case.
Singleton’s decision to charge an innocent man, Willie Caldwell III, with murder left him in jail for eight months.
“I was charged with murder,” said Caldwell.
They’re words you never want to hear, but for Caldwell, it was his reality, although he wasn’t guilty of the crime.
In the early morning of Jan. 22, Caldwell told Queen City News he was drinking, laughing, and having fun with several other friends at his friend Corey Bennett’s home.
When Caldwell decided to leave, he grabbed his bottle of vodka and headed toward the door. That’s when he was stopped by an intoxicated Bennett who “didn’t want him to leave.”
“He was grabbing my pocket, trying to go in my pocket and tell me, ‘You ain’t going nowhere with the liquor,’” Caldwell described. “While he was talking, he was spitting on me, and I pushed him off me, and he hit me, and I fell to the ground. He got on top of me and started beating me.”
Caldwell says he used the liquor bottle to hit Bennett to get him off of him. Caldwell says he got up to walk away as Bennett continued to threaten him verbally.
He’d made it home — only two minutes away — before noticing he dropped his phone during the fight. When he returned, he saw Bennett lying face down on the ground, unresponsive.
Court records show Caldwell’s family member called 911. That’s when Chief Singleton showed up.
“I feel like he didn’t listen to what I had to say; he kept calling me a liar and told me that it didn’t happen that way,” Caldwell said.
Court records say body-cam video shows Singleton stating he “believed the killing of Bennett to be an accident.” Caldwell said, “I didn’t mean to kill him,” and the chief responded, “I know.”
“He kept telling me ‘It was an accident,’ that I won’t be charged with murder, I’ll be charged with manslaughter,” Caldwell said.
Despite that interaction, Singleton still charged Caldwell with murder “within hours of the incident” and without consulting the county solicitor for guidance.
The charge left Caldwell in Chester County jail for eight months with no bond until he filed for immunity from prosecution under the Protection of Persons and Property Act, the state’s version of “stand your ground.” The law allows for you to stand your ground and reasonably defend yourself.
Public defender Kay Boulware defended Caldwell for the preliminary court hearing.
“I got the videos, the body-cam videos for being the situation into this case,” Boulware said. “And a lot of the things I saw on the body-cam videos were very concerning to me, which further kind of cemented in my head that, in this case, these charges need to be dismissed.”
The court determined Singleton “failed to provide evidentiary support” for his decision to charge Caldwell with murder “within hours of the incident.” It also determined that Singleton didn’t follow proper protocol during the investigation, which made his testimony not credible.
After Caldwell’s immunity request, Bennett’s blood wasn’t sent off for testing for a “rush” job until Aug. 11. The court granted him immunity on Aug. 22.
“Sitting there, just listening to stuff he said on that body camera, and this stuff comes out of his mouth,” said Caldwell’s sister Jackie. “He’s unprofessional, and he doesn’t need to be this chief for Chester.”
She had been fighting for her brother’s release since he was arrested and called for the chief’s firing. Jackie said she was excited when she found out her brother would finally be released.
“It feels real good,” Jackie said. “I have praised so many nights and cried, and I just thank God. It was more like a nightmare. And throughout the whole time, I believed him. I feel sorry for the family, but I’m just glad he’s out.”
Jackie hopes this is a wake-up call for the city.
“This can happen to someone else’s family,” she said. “For you as a chief, you don’t even know my brother from a can of paint, and some of the stuff he was saying was wrong.”
A lifelong Chester resident, Caldwell never previously had any negative interactions with law enforcement. Despite Singleton’s actions, he doesn’t view Chester Police in a bad light — it was just one bad officer.
“I’m a better person because I’m not that guy,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell plans to get his life back on track and find another job. Meanwhile, the Chester County Sheriff’s Captain Al Crawford will temporarily serve as the Operational Commander for the city’s law enforcement services.
The City of Chester says Singleton was hired in Dec. 2022. The Public Defender’s office says it will notify the Solicitor’s office if they encounter a case Singleton was part of.