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Dylann Roof To Face Trial In 1 Year; Gag Order Extended

By John Monk, The State (TNS)

CHARLESTON, S.C. — State Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson set a tentative court date of July 11, 2016, for Dylann Roof, who was charged with nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder after he allegedly opened fire on parishioners attending a Bible study at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

During a 24-minute hearing, Roof’s defense attorney Ashley Pennington told the judge that there were no issues at this time regarding Roof’s mental competence to stand trial. Roof, who appeared in court, sat quietly while the hearing took place.

Scarlett Wilson, the 9th Circuit solicitor, told the judge that although this is a potential death penalty case, no decision has been reached by the solicitor to seek the death penalty against Roof.

With respect to a temporary gag order that Nicholson issued last week, he said he is giving all interested parties until next Wednesday at 5 p.m. to file their concerns about releasing any pretrial information to the media.

In a sweeping gag order last week, the judge prohibited the release of information pertaining to the case to news media. The order also prohibits all people involved in the case, including potential witnesses, from speaking to news media.

However, Nicholson said Thursday that his order is only temporary, and he has no interest in making it permanent unless good causes can be shown by anyone of three interested parties, which includes law enforcement, including federal agencies, the victims’ families and the defense council for Roof.

Roof, an alleged white supremacist who wanted to start a race war, is accused of shooting the nine African-Americans as they attended a prayer meeting at the church. One of the victims was state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a respected and well-liked member of the South Carolina Legislature. Pinckney was also pastor of the church.

Thursday’s hearing was the second court appearance by Roof.

His first hearing — a bond appearance on June 19, two days after the shootings — made national news because relatives of the victims spoke publicly, telling Roof their Christian faith caused them to forgive him.

Those public and unexpected acts of forgiveness were the catalyst for Republican Gov. Nikki Haley to call for the removal of the Confederate flag from its position of honor by the State House. The flag has long been used by white supremacists and segregationists to send a message to blacks that they are second-class citizens.

After the Charleston killings and the discovery that the Confederate flag provided inspiration for the Mother Emanuel church killings, white heritage groups lost their power over most members of the General Assembly, who voted to take the flag down. It was removed July 10 in an event attended by a cheering crowd of thousands.

Roof, 21, grew up in Columbia and attended public schools in Lexington and Richland counties and apparently didn’t get beyond ninth grade. Law officers are exploring how he came by his extreme white supremacist views.

Sources have told The State that law enforcement investigations into Roof have expanded and that others may now be targets.

Photo: Dylann Roof (R), the 21-year-old man charged with murdering nine worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston last month, is helped to his chair by chief public defender Ashley Pennington during a hearing at the Judicial Center in Charleston, South Carolina July 16, 2015. (REUTERS/Randall Hill)

‘Manifesto’ Linked To Dylann Roof Found On Web

By John Monk, The State (Columbia, S.C.) (TNS)

COLUMBIA, South Carolina — An alleged manifesto of sorts purportedly belonging to accused Charleston killer Dylann Storm Roof surfaced Saturday on the Internet.

The manifesto is laden with racially inflammatory language.

Whether he wrote or posted the text himself is unverified as yet.

But there are fresh photographs that appear to be Roof.

The writer also describes why Charleston was chosen for the attacks.

“I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

In nearly all the photographs where his face is visible, Roof is serious and unsmiling.

In one photograph, he is sitting on a stool in a garden, surrounded by flowers, holding a Confederate flag in one hand and a .45 caliber handgun in the other.

Another photo is a closeup of a .45 caliber pistol and brass-colored bullets. The gun is similar to the one said to have been used in the executions of the nine black-American church members in Charleston last week.

In another photo, Roof is shown in a beach scene with the numbers “1488” written in the sand. In that photo, the “1” is partially obscured by a wave. In another photo, however, the numbers “1488” are visibly written in the sand above the wave line.

According to the Anti-Defamation League and other sources, the number “14” is a reference to what white supremacists call “the 14 words.” Those words are, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” — words attributed to George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party.

The number “88” is shorthand for Heil Hitler — H being the eighth letter of the alphabet, according to the Anti-Defamation League and others.

In what appears to be a chilling 2,000-plus word manifesto, Roof tells why he believes blacks are inferior to whites, how they were happy when they lived under slavery and how whites need to take the country back. Blacks are “the biggest problem of America,” he writes.

Roof also targets Jews and Latinos, writing of Latinos that even though many are white, “They are still our enemies.” Of Jews, Roof writes, they are responsible for “agitation of the black race.”

As for patriotism, Roof writes, “I hate the sight of the American flag.”

Roof began to think about racial matters, he writes, after hearing about the 2012 incident in which George Zimmerman, a mixed-race Latino man, shot and killed a black youth, Trayvon Martin, at a gated community in Florida. Zimmerman was tried and found not guilty of second-degree murder.

After researching crimes that blacks commit against whites, Roof writes, he came to the conclusion that he had to go to Charleston.

Roof said he didn’t want “to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight.”

Consequently, as the world now knows, he shot black men, women and at least one child during a prayer group gathering at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Some of the photos on the website, such as one of him pointing a handgun at the camera, Roof could have taken himself. Others, such as him kneeling on a beach, might have been taken by someone else currently unknown.

One image shows him at what appears to be a Lowcountry plantation. He is standing next to what could be educational African-American mannequins dressed in Colonial period costumes.

In another photo, a shirtless young man who is apparently Roof (his face is not part of the photo) stands on top of a rumpled American flag lying on a bedroom floor.

(c)2015 The State (Columbia, S.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Police Shooting Shows Need For Major Changes, Advocates Say

By John Monk, The State (Columbia, S.C.) (TNS)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — There would have been no charges filed against a North Charleston, S.C., police officer this week without a video shot by a witness, many, including the mayor of North Charleston, are saying.

Video brings more accountability, and that’s why some South Carolina state lawmakers will be pushing hard next week to pass a bill requiring all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras.

But proposals beyond the body cameras are needed to ensure police accountability, some say. They say:

  • State law should require that the State Law Enforcement Division, as an outside agency, investigate each time an officer fires a weapon in South Carolina.
  • All police agencies should be required by law to collect racial profiling data and turn that over to SLED, as a previous state law intended.

The body camera bill will get a hearing in the state Senate as soon as next week and quickly move on from there, a key senator said Wednesday.

The bill, introduced in December by Senator Gerald Malloy (D-Darlington), already has had three hearings this year in a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee chaired by Senator Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg).

Hutto said he hopes his committee soon will pass the bill out to the full Judiciary Committee, which could consider it later this month.

In his subcommittee’s three hearings on body cameras, Hutto said, most witnesses -– including many from the state’s law enforcement community -– expressed overwhelming support for using cameras.

Concerns, raised by victims advocate groups and others, include privacy and Freedom of Information request issues, as well as costs of the cameras and data storage, Hutto said.

A revenue impact study done for Malloy’s bill estimates it would cost some $21 million to equip most state and local law officers with body cameras the first year, and $12 million per year after that.

Malloy said any costs of body cameras should be balanced with the costs of unnecessary police shootings, follow-up investigations and bad publicity for South Carolina –- such as Wednesday’s New York Times front-page photographs from the video of a North Charleston officer shooting a man in the back as he runs away.

Body cameras will act as a deterrent and might well have prevented the North Charleston shooting, Malloy said. “If that officer in North Charleston had been wearing a body camera, I don’t think he draws the weapon,” he said.

“We know that body cameras work. Good police officers don’t really mind,” Malloy said. “Complaints go down from citizens, and officers can use the videos for training.”

Hutto is enthusiastic. Law officers who testified “before our committee thought it was a great idea. It helps gather evidence, it’s great for community relations, it’s good for officer safety, and it acts as a deterrent to bad conduct on the part of both officers and citizens alike,” he said.

Hutto downplayed the initial multimillion-dollar costs. After all, when the idea of police car video cameras were introduced years ago, many people said they would cost too much, Hutto said. But the state decided to pay most of the costs by enacting a one hudred dollar fee on people convicted of DUI, and that fee has substantially helped pay for police car videos –- which nearly everyone now agrees are a great asset, he said.

“Over the years, we’ve collected millions of dollars,” Hutto said. “The vast majority of the cars on the streets now, when the blue lights go on, the camera goes on.”

Senator Marlon Kimpson, whose district includes North Charleston, where the latest shooting took place, is a co-sponsor of Malloy’s body camera bill.

University of South Carolina School of Law professor Colin Miller said Wednesday he shows law students in his criminal law and evidence classes many videos of officer-involved shootings, but all up to now raise at least some possibility the officer had justification for shooting.

“As far as video clips I’ve seen, this (North Charleston clip) is probably the most compelling,” Miller said. “Based on what’s shown in the video, it looks a lot like a homicide.”

Meanwhile, Representative Joe Neal (D-Richland), a leader in the Legislative black caucus, said he is introducing legislation that would require an outside law agency to investigate any officer-involved shooting.

“That will help ensure some level of objectivity and fairness,” Neal said. “There are some departments that now insist they can do an in-house investigation. I don’t think any law agency should investigate itself.”

USC’s Miller said he strongly supports independent, outside investigations of officers involved in shootings.

Now, SLED investigates only at the invitation of local or other state police agencies.

SLED has no authority to take over an investigation, and local police are not required by law to report such shootings.

While all agencies can opt not to invite SLED in, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department routinely does not turn over investigations of its officer-involved shootings to SLED or another outside agency.

Sheriff Leon Lott said he turned to in-house probes starting in 2014 because he feels his department has the investigative expertise, a competent crime lab, and the public trust to conduct proper investigations of its own deputies.

Police face tough decisions and, often, heavily armed and dangerous criminals.

So it’s right that they are given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to spilt-second decisions, experts say.

Even so, charging, and convicting, an officer of mishandling a shooting incident is rare in South Carolina, experts say.

Police in South Carolina have fired their weapons at 209 suspects in the past five years, and a handful of officers have been accused of pulling the trigger illegally –- but none has been convicted, according to an analysis of five years’s worth of data by The State newspaper.

The solicitor for Charleston and Berkeley counties, Scarlett Wilson, has not brought charges against an officer in at least the past five years.

During that time, there have been 23 police-involved shootings there, 17 of them in Charleston County, according to SLED data from 2010-15 examined by The State.

With SLED investigating, there’s not only a better chance at accountability, experts say. There’s a better chance for better data collection and analysis.

With one agency in charge, there would be a central location for collecting information and, presumably, more consistency and better chances to spot a trend –- good or bad.

Because SLED’s data now comes in from the various agencies and often does not contain the race of the officers, for example, which makes trends or possible racial profiling difficult to detect.

Data collection matters, Neal said, whether from shootings or from traffic stops, for seat-belt violations or other reasons.

“There needs to be come teeth in the law,” said Neal, noting there is already a law but that it only applies to non-ticketed police encounters and has no penalty in it for agencies who do not report the data to SLED.

In 2005, Neal was part of an effort to include a provision mandating the collection of racial profiling data in a pending mandatory seat belt bill.

Although many white lawmakers objected, Neal and others supported a long-stalled bill mandating seat belt use after a provision stipulating law agencies must collect race data on encounters between police and citizens.

That provision required all state and local law enforcement agencies to complete a form listing the race of the driver in traffic stops in which a citation is not issued. Police already collect race and other data in most other stops involving a ticket.

But Neal said Wednesday the racial profiling measure in the seat belt isn’t working because only a minority of law agencies report that data to SLED as required by law.

During the past 15 years, there have been some 550 reported police shootings in South Carolina, SLED’s records indicate. That’s an annual average of 36 shootings.

Other information is more difficult to come by, gleaned only by digging through SLED’s voluminous files.

Last month, a University of South Carolina professor told The State that it is embarrassing that no one knows exactly how often police fire at or kill suspects in the United States or South Carolina, and that lack of sufficient information makes it harder to grapple with the controversial issue, a criminal justice professor said.

“The government is very aggressive about giving us numbers to protect us from the free market,” the University of South Carolina’s Geoff Alpert, a nationally recognized expert on police use of force issues, said in an interview. “But not much when it comes to our civil liberties.”

Malloy said he plans to introduce another bill next week in the Senate.

It will prevent police from charging bystanders with a crime if they are videotaping a police encounter with a citizen.

“It will allow our citizens to go on and break out their cameras,” Malloy said.

“Pictures are worth a thousand words,” the senator said. “And thank goodness for this picture.”

Photo: City of North Charleston – City Hall via Flickr

Judge Rules That Gays Have Constitutional Right To Marry – First Federal Ruling On An S.C. Same-Sex Marriage Case

By John Monk, The State (Columbia, S.C.) (MCT)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Federal Judge Richard Gergel of Charleston, S.C., overturned state law and ruled today that couples of the same sex have a right under the U.S. Constitution to marry in South Carolina.

Gergel’s decision is the first ruling in a South Carolina federal court that clearly states that state government has no compelling interest — nor does it have a right — to dictate to citizens who they can and cannot marry.

In his 26-page ruling, filed at 9:29 a.m. Wednesday, Gergel quoted from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals’ Bostic decision, saying it refuted the arguments made by S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson.

Gergel also appeared to scold Wilson and Haley, saying that the 4th Circuit ruling was the “controlling authority” and that that is a well-known legal principle.

Gergel’s decision won’t go into effect immediately.

He granted a brief stay in his decision, giving Haley and Wilson time to appeal to the 4th Circuit, should they desire. Haley and Wilson, who have filed numerous arguments in federal courts for more than a year arguing that gay people do not have the right to marry in South Carolina, are almost certain to appeal.

Still, the ruling was a historic victory for two women, Colleen Condon and Anne Bleckley, who applied for a marriage license Oct. 8 at the Charleston County probate court and paid the filing fee. On Oct. 9, when Bleckley came back to pick up the license, officials acting on the instructions of Haley and Wilson refused to issue it, the women’s lawsuit alleges.

Condon and Bleckley argued they are being harmed irreparably.

More than 40 federal court opinions in more than 25 states have decided that same-sex marriages are not barred by the U.S. Constitution.

In his decision, Gergel specifically overturned an amendment to the S.C. Constitution passed by a huge majority of South Carolinians in 2006. That amendment passed by a 78-22 percent majority in a referendum.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision allowing same-sex marriage in Virginia. The 4th Circuit is an appellate court that covers Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina. Since then, South Carolina has become the only state in the circuit whose officials will not permit gay marriages.

Haley’s and Wilson’s appeal would go to the 4th Circuit.

The two have made numerous arguments to Gergel about why federal courts should have no say in whom the South Carolina government allows to get married. Marriage is a state, not a federal matter, they argued.

Gergel’s ruling rejected those arguments.

Columbia lawyer Vickie Eslingler of Columbia, one of the winning lawyers, said Wednesday, “It’s a great day in South Carolina.

“We are thrilled South Carolina is in the forefront of applying the law as it should be applied.”

Attorneys Eslingler, Nekki Shutt and Malissa Burnette argued the case for Condon, who is an attorney and member of the Charleston County Council, and Bleckley, on behalf of the S.C. Equality Coalition. Elizabeth Littrell, of Atlanta, is also a plaintiff’s lawyer, working on behalf of the Lambda Defense Fund.

Emory Smith argued the case for the attorney general’s office in a Oct. 24 hearing before Gergel, who said he wanted to see the arguments in writing.

Briefs in the case were turned in to Gergel last week.

“The issue of same-sex marriage has proceeded through the federal courts in other states at an unprecedented pace,” Haley and Wilson argued in the state’s brief.

“Centuries of precedent have been swept away in other jurisdictions in the space of only two or three years. . . . But the legal proceedings are not over. The U.S. Supreme Court has not weighed in.”

Gergel explained in the hearing why he was moving so quickly.

“The plaintiffs in this case have asserted an irreparable injury,” he told both sides. “They assert their marriage was stopped by action of the defendants … and I believe they’re entitled to an expeditious review.”

Photo: Kevin Goebel via Flickr

South Carolina House Speaker Harrell Pleads Guilty To Misconduct In Office, Resigns

By John Monk, The State (Columbia, S.C.) (MCT)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Bobby Harrell, speaker of the South Carolina House since 2005, pleaded guilty to six counts of use of campaign funds for personal expenses on Thursday morning and has agreed to resign immediately from his House seat.

In a plea hearing at the Richland County courthouse, Harrell was given six one-year prison sentences but all were suspended by circuit court Judge Casey Manning after Harrell, 58, agreed to the following conditions in a written plea agreement:

– Harrell agrees not to seek or hold public office for three years. He also will be on probation during that time. The Charleston Republican was first elected to the House in 1993.

– Harrell will pay a $30,000 fine plus an additional $93,958 to the general fund of South Carolina. Harrell will also turn over all of his remaining campaign account to the state’s general fund. That amount was not immediately available.

– Harrell agrees to cooperate with state and federal prosecutors, including being ready to testify “fully and truthfully at any trials or other proceeding” in state or federal court. Harrell must submit to polygraph examinations.

Harrell did not apologize.

After the hearing, he issued a statement through the state’s House Republican Caucus:

“I have agreed to this today to end what has been a two year nightmare. This has been incredibly hard on my family and me, and it is time for it to end. We have a fundamental disagreement over the proper use of a campaign account to fly a private aircraft to conduct state and campaign business, but to continue to fight this would have taken at least another year, possibly two.

“Cathy and I are deeply appreciative to everyone who has offered words of encouragement and prayers on our behalf. My passion for our state remains as strong as it has ever been, and I will continue to look for ways to serve the Lowcountry and South Carolina.”

Harrell has insisted he was innocent and that any financial irregularities were the result of sloppy record-keeping.

But David Pascoe, the independent special prosecutor in the case, made it clear during Thursday’s hearing that he and investigators had gathered indisputable evidence that Harrell had deliberately falsified records to allow him to use campaign donations for personal expenses – despite laws forbidding such actions.

Bill Nettles, the U.S. attorney for South Carolina, has declined comment on whether there is a pending federal investigation involving Harrell or other members of the state House.

However, state and federal law enforcement agents jointly have been interviewing members of the House, asking about possible illegal vote-swapping, questionable use of campaign money and PAC contributions as well as possible vote-swapping in the February race for the state Supreme Court’s chief justice, according to law enforcement and legislative sources.

Harrell was a key player in that chief justice race, using his clout to round up votes for the winner, current Chief Justice Jean Toal.

An indictment in Harrell’s case also mentioned “untaxed income” – legalese for potential problems Harrell might have with the IRS or the South Carolina Department of Revenue.

In getting Harrell’s cooperation to be a potential government witness, Pascoe agreed to “nol pros,” or not prosecute four other indictments against Harrell. However, under a written plea agreement, Pascoe reserves the right to reactivate the indictments and prosecute Harrell if the former speaker lies to law enforcement officials.

Such written plea agreements – in which lighter sentences are given, and some charges are dropped, in return for a criminal’s information about other potential crimes involving other people – are common in federal criminal court. In federal court, defendants also agree to submit to lie detector tests and they know that dropped charges can be brought again if the government catches the defendant in a lie.

A long, legal odyssey led to Harrell’s guilty plea Thursday morning.

It involved a state investigation, a state grand jury probe, a bitter feud between state Attorney General Alan Wilson and Harrell, and a landmark state Supreme Court decision ruling that state legislators are not immune from criminal prosecution in ethics matters.

In recent months, Wilson – facing a likely disqualification as prosecutor in the case – handed the case off to Pascoe, who began in late August to function as an independent special prosecutor.

Many people thought that Pascoe wouldn’t bring charges against Harrell, whose control over his fellow House members and influence with the state’s judges, who are elected by the Legislature, was far-reaching. As recently as August, Harrell was publicly bragging that no charges would be brought against him.

The Harrell case began in February 2013, when representatives of Common Cause of South Carolina and the South Carolina Policy Council met with Wilson to make formal complaints about Harrell’s alleged misuse of campaign contributions. As a result of that meeting, Wilson asked South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel to launch an investigation. That investigation was largely complete by late fall 2013.

In January of this year, Wilson announced he would seek a state grand jury investigation of irregularities turned up by the state probe. The state grand jury, whose proceedings are secret, has subpoena and other powers that make it a formidable force in any criminal investigation.

Out of public view, Harrell and his attorneys filed motions before a circuit court judge aimed at disqualifying Wilson. The motions alleged Wilson had a conflict of interest, had made improper statements and that an attorney general could not criminally prosecute ethics violations unless the House Ethics Committee signed off on the investigation.

However, after The State newspaper learned of Harrell’s effort to scuttle Wilson’s investigation and wrote a story about it, a public outcry led to public hearings over whether Wilson should be disqualified and the state grand jury investigation ended.

In May, Judge Manning ruled that Wilson had no authority to investigate Harrell on ethics matters because such allegations had to first be vetted by the House Ethics Committee. Wilson appealed to the state Supreme Court. In July, that court ruled that Wilson did have the authority to investigate lawmakers ethics’ violations.

But the court also ordered the matter of whether Wilson should be disqualified for a conflict of interest back to Manning. On July 11, Harrell’s lawyers filed motions with Manning to seek Wilson’s disqualification.

Faced with a decision that might go against him, Wilson handed the case off to Pascoe, who has worked as a prosecutor for more than 20 years under both Republicans and Democrats.

According to a court order signed by Manning on Aug. 29, Pascoe had complete and independent authority to make all decisions going forward “as he deems appropriate.”

Photo: Bobby Harrell, speaker of the South Carolina House since 2005, pleads guilty to six counts of use of campaign funds for personal expenses on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014, and has agreed to resign immediately from his House seat. (Gerry Melendez/The State/MCT)