SC senator found ‘slumped’ in car, had slurred speech before arrest, police report says

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A South Carolina senator arrested for public intoxication early New Year’s Day was found in his parked car by Lexington police with his head slumped down on his steering wheel and with “extremely slurred speech,” according to a police incident report.

The Lexington Police Department released its incident report of the arrest of Sen. Tom Davis, offering more details about what led to the Beaufort Republican’s arrest on Jan. 1.

Davis was arrested and ticketed with public intoxication. He was taken to the Lexington County Detention Center and given a $1,000 personal recognizance bond on the condition he show for future court hearings.

Tom Davis
Tom Davis

In his own statement Sunday, Davis apologized about the incident, saying he was “ashamed and embarrassed,” and had parked his car after he “recognized he should not be driving” following a New Year’s Eve gathering.

The statement did not explicitly say that he was arrested, nor did it say he spent time in jail and received bond.

Speaking to The State Wednesday, Davis reiterated his embarrassment over the incident, and acknowledged he spent some hours in the Lexington County Detention Center after being arrested around 4 a.m. Sunday.

“My intention was to sit with the car off until I felt I could drive, and the officer said that he was not going to charge me with DUI, but he said, ‘You do appear to be intoxicated, and if we were to leave, and then you were to drive again, we might be held liable for letting you go, so we have to charge you with something,’” Davis said.

Davis said he believed the officers’ actions were appropriate.

“It was consistent with a concern for my safety and the safety of others,” he said. “I have no one to blame but myself. I embarrassed myself, I embarrassed my family, I embarrassed my colleagues, and I will try to learn from it and get better.”

Davis was arrested Jan. 1 after a Lexington police officer found the senator in a parking lot with “extremely slurred speech and an odor of alcoholic beverage emanating from his person,” according to the incident report.

A Lexington police officer reports finding Davis’ car parked outside of a designated parking space in the Target parking lot on Sunset Boulevard shortly after 4 a.m. The officer wrote the windows were fogged over and Davis was in the driver’s seat with his head slumped down to the steering wheel.

When the officer made contact with Davis, the senator quickly said, ”he wasn’t going to drive,” and “made repeated statements about not being able to drive, or that he was just going to stay in the parking lot for a while because he couldn’t drive back to Beaufort,” the report says.

Davis admitted drinking alcohol but denied that he felt he was intoxicated, the report said.

The officer noted Davis failed to pass a field sobriety test, was “unsteady on his feet” and “had glassy eyes.” When Davis was asked to exit the car, he lost his balance and was seen to “almost fall back against the side of his vehicle.”

Asked if he knew anyone in Lexington, Davis told the officer he had been at his girlfriend’s house earlier in the evening, but “that they had gotten into an argument and she had asked (Davis) to leave,” the report says.

Davis told The State he didn’t “remember relaying it in those terms.”

He said he had been at a party at a friend’s house about half-a-mile from the incident location, and had decided to drive back home to Beaufort after watching the college football playoff. He said he drove for a minute or two before deciding he was too impaired to safely drive and stopping in the parking lot. Davis estimates he was there for more than an hour before the officer arrived, drinking from a case of Diet Cokes he had in the car from a recent trip.

Davis said he divorced from his ex-wife in 2020 after year-long separation period.

The senator was placed under arrest and handcuffed and transported to the Lexington County Detention Center. A Lexington police department spokesman said Davis was held there from the time of his arrest until a bond court appearance at 10 a.m.

The State has asked Lexington police for in-car video of the arrest. The department declined to release footage from the officer’s body camera as video from officer-worn cameras is not subject to the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

An attorney, Davis represents Senate District 46, which covers parts of Beaufort and Jasper counties. He was first elected to the upper chamber in 2008, previously serving in former Gov. Mark Sanford’s administration where he held a handful of positions, including chief of staff.

Davis, who chairs the Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee, was last elected to the Senate in 2020.

Senior editor Maayan Schechter contributed to this report.