Lancaster police officer accused of racial profiling

LANCASTER, S.C. — For a month, Channel 9 has investigated reports concerning an officer at the Lancaster Police Department.

Officer Peter Beck stands accused of racial profiling. More than 20 people voiced complaints in front of The Lancaster City Council on Feb. 9.

They told the council that Beck unfairly targeted African American drivers while making traffic stops.

Some residents said Beck stops Black drivers without cause and wrongly searches their cars over something as simple as a broken taillight or turning without signaling.

[WANT TO WATCH ON OUR STREAMING APPS? CLICK HERE]

Arlene Clyburn said Beck has harassed members of her family and has provoked fear in the Black community.

“Pulling people out of their cars, putting them in handcuffs and then you turn around and let them go,” Clyburn said. “What’s the point in you pulling them out of their cars? What probable cause do you have?”

Tonya Ross said she has encountered Beck, too, and didn’t understand what he was doing. She called it intimidation.

“He kept riding on my bumper, putting his lights on bright and cutting them back off,” she said. “We’re not gonna stand back and let this happen anymore.”

Channel 9 filed a Freedom of Information Act request and found one formal written complaint against Beck, which was filed in late January.

He was accused of tailgating a female driver on Highway 903, stopping her vehicle and telling her he thought it was someone else who usually had drugs.

The woman said, “Beck snatched her car door open,” frightening her, according to the complaint.

Eyewitness News reporter Greg Suskin spoke with Police Chief Scott Grant on Thursday and got a first look at the body cam video from the event.

>> Reading this story in our app? The “Follow the Lead” feature allows you to tap the blue tag indicated with a ‘+’ to subscribe to alerts on the very latest breaking news updates.

In the video, Beck told the woman he thought the car belonged to a white male, a known meth dealer who’s often armed and doesn’t have a driver’s license. The owner of the car happened to have the same name as the drug dealer they thought they had stopped.

Police said it was a simple mistake. Beck ran the woman’s license on his laptop and let her go.

Grant said he couldn’t find any fault with Beck’s actions.

The woman who filed that complaint sat down with Grant and also watched body cam video of the event.

She told Channel 9 she understood some of what Officer Beck did but felt his behavior was improper. The woman has not withdrawn her complaint.

Lancaster police officials felt they answered her questions and resolved the matter.

“I think she had some legitimate concerns, and I feel we addressed those concerns,” Grant said.

Beck was a sheriff’s deputy with Lancaster County for several years until 2020, when he was asked to resign or be fired.

His employment records obtained by Channel 9 through the FOIA show that Beck was given a written reprimand for making “ill-advised and unprofessional” comments during a traffic stop. The citizen felt that the stop was racially motivated. Beck got angry at being called a racist, according to the document.

However, three other citizen’s complaints made against him were all ruled unfounded after an investigation. Those complaints were not racial in nature.

Beck resigned from the sheriff’s office in March 2020 after a traffic stop that led to a drug bust and multiple policy violations.

The internal report describes his actions during that incident as “unnecessarily confrontational” and “reckless.”

[Police arrest man in Charlotte accused of Lancaster slaying last month]

Beck was then hired by the Lancaster Police Department, and some residents began accusing him of profiling and harassing drivers in east Lancaster.

Grant issued a statement to Channel 9 Wednesday: “Every complaint brought to my attention will be investigated to its fullest extent and given the attention it deserves. I urge anyone who has complaints or questions to bring them to my attention.”

Grant said some of the complaints voiced at the Lancaster city council meeting did not reach his ears until that night. He said he’s gathering information about these new incidents to investigate them as well.

“Some of the things that were brought up in city council, we absolutely know didn’t happen,” Grant said.

Robert Twitty was one of the people at the city council meeting who accused Beck of racial profiling. He said Beck stopped him for having a taillight out. He was cited for that, but Twitty doesn’t believe that was the reason for the stop.

“Why do you feel like officer Beck pulled you over?” Suskin asked.

“Because I was black and coming out of the projects,” Twitty responded.

Some members of the African American community said they’re concerned that progress made between the community and the police is being damaged.

“What this does is it resets what we’re trying to do with the police and the community. It resets us back all over again,” Ross said.

Other have said the behavior has continued and should be addressed.

“I would like for Black people to be treated like they’re not Black, treated like people,” Twitty said.

Grant said he listened to the concerns raised at the meeting, but so far, hasn’t found anything to back up the complaints against Beck.

“If you had any evidence that this officer was racial profiling people in Lancaster, what would your response be?” Suskin asked Grant.

“He’d be gone,” he responded.

Beck is on duty and on patrol. He’s not under an internal investigation.

Grant said people deserve answers, and he’s working to get them, but said his goal is to make Lancaster a safe place to live, and to prevent young Black men from being shot and killed in the streets. He said that’s why officers are in those neighborhoods every day.