Category Archives: Crime and Punishment

On Al Capone and you-know-who: What’s the appeal?

Capone following his arrest on a vagrancy charge in 1930.

Capone following his arrest on a vagrancy charge in 1930.

Yesterday, Bryan Burrough reviewed a new book about Al Capone in The Wall Street Journal.

The writer, himself an author of a popular book on criminals of that era, confessed he was somewhat at a loss to explain why Capone remains such a favorite subject of readers: “I’ve read my share of books devoted to his life and legend, and I must admit, his appeal eludes me.”

The best bit of the review was this paragraph:

The portrait that invariably emerges is of a rank outsider, a Brooklynite making his way as a “businessman” in Chicago, a grandiose bloviator handed much of his empire in his 20s by his mentor, the retiring Johnny Torrio. When Capone encounters difficulties, he whines about his persecution by the press and a legal system “rigged” against him. Half the country thinks him a monster; others view him as the common man’s champion. Wait: This is beginning to sound familiar. I guess this isn’t the first time I’ve underestimated the appeal of such a man….

Yeah, I know the feeling.

No doubt there are a lot of voters out there — a lot more than most people had supposed — who would be interested in reading about such a man…

Capone's FBI rap sheet -- which seems oddly blank.

Capone’s FBI rap sheet — which seems oddly blank.

The Hamlet routine: to press or not to press (charges)

None of these is actually my mailbox; I just needed art to go with this...

None of these is actually my mailbox; I just needed art to go with this…

Monday morning, my wife asked me if I’d done anything with our mailbox at the house — put anything in, taken anything out, whatever. No, I hadn’t. She said she’d come home mid-morning and found it open. And two pieces of mail she had placed in it Sunday afternoon, both containing checks to pay bills, were missing.

So we speculated that maybe the postal worker had come freakishly early or something — J vaguely recalled having seen the mail truck in the neighborhood on Sunday and wondering what it was doing — and made plans to contact the folks to whom the checks were mailed to make sure they arrived.

Then, a couple of hours later, I got a call from our credit union, with whom we have that checking account. Someone we had never heard of had just been in their Irmo office trying to cash a check from us for $680.42.

One of the checks we were mailing was for $130.42. Think about it.

While I can see how someone made that change, I still don’t know how anyone managed to change what was in the TO space. The check was to Lexington County, to pay a vehicle tax, and the name it had been changed to wasn’t even close.

Anyway, the credit union refused to cash it, the person left with the check, and the teller — who remembered us from when she worked in the West Columbia branch — called me.

So since the thieves have my account number and routing number, I ran over to the main office and had the account closed.

That was just the start. We had to change a couple of direct deposits, and some automatic payments — Netflix and the like. There were the two probably-stolen checks, and an earlier payment that hadn’t gone through, so we’d have to get with all those folks and arrange to pay another way.

Yeah, I know. You’re wondering why we were putting checks into our mailbox. A lot of people have asked that the last couple of days, accompanied by “Didn’t you know…?” No, we didn’t. While everyone and his brother is mentioning it now, no one had ever mentioned it to us before — and we’d gone our entire lives without anything being stolen from our mailbox. To our knowledge.

And like most of you, we don’t send out many checks anymore, usually doing electronic transfers. But that doesn’t always work out. Rest assured, if we send out checks henceforth, we’ll follow Moscow Rules — maybe changing vehicles two or three times on the way to an official U.S. gummint mailbox.

Next step, police reports. We live in the county, so I called the sheriff’s office and gave the details over the phone. Separately — since a separate crime was attempted in that jurisdiction — the credit union contacted the Irmo PD.

Which led to a bit of a dilemma for me.

Tuesday morning, the Irmo policeman who’d taken the report called me to ask whether we wanted to press charges. Not that there was a suspect in custody or anything — the police wanted to know whether they would have a case (whether we would testify that we never wrote a check to the person in question, for instance) before devoting resources to it.

I sympathized. The police need to prioritize, I understand. But being asked this question caused me concern on two fronts, having to do with opinions I’ve long held and expressed:

  • I’m all for looking out for crime victims, but I am adamantly opposed to them making decisions about prosecution. You’ll hear people say that “The victim’s family should decide” whether to pursue the death penalty in murder cases, for instance. That’s an outrageous suggestion in my book. We don’t have police and courts to act as agents of personal vengeance for individuals. Our laws against murder and passing bad checks exist because we, as a society, don’t think people should be allowed to kill other people or steal from them — such things are disruptive to civilization. (This is related to my oft-stated opposition to abortion on demand — to me, it’s a violation of the ideal of a nation of laws and not of men to have the one most interested person on the planet have absolute power over life and death.)
  • As y’all know, I don’t think we need to be locking up people who commit nonviolent crimes. Many if not most of the women in prison, from what I’ve heard in the past, are there for trying to pass bad checks. Don’t know if that’s still true, but that’s what I used to hear.

Add to that the fact that aside from being greatly inconvenienced, I had lost nothing, thanks to the smart actions of the teller who refused to cash the check (I told her supervisor she should get a gold star for that). The credit union wasn’t out anything, either — aside from time spent on this.

So I dithered. I asked the officer if I could call him back, and promised to do so by the end of the day.

I polled people about it, and everyone I talked to said of course you want them to prosecute. Still, I did the Hamlet routine — to press or not to press?

I finally decided that I had no choice, for the simple fact that it wasn’t about us, even though it felt like it. Whoever had stolen the checks, and whoever tried to pass the forged one (which could be more than one person), might do it again. For all I know, the person or people in question might do this all the time.

And that needed to be stopped, if possible. It wasn’t about what had or hadn’t been done to us; it was about protecting the rest of society. If we didn’t follow through, additional crimes might occur. If we didn’t proceed, the social contract would fray a bit more.

You know me — once I had it framed in my mind in communitarian terms, I called the officer and asked him to proceed.

If anything else interesting happens, I’ll keep y’all posted…

By the way, what would y’all have done (I mean, besides not putting the checks in the mailbox to start with)?

The rape suspect cross-examined the victim? REALLY?

Being blind, Lady Justice missed a travesty in one of her courts Tuesday.

Being blind, Lady Justice missed a travesty in one of her courts Tuesday.

I don’t read a whole lot of crime news, because it seldom involves editorial points I want to make.

But this story sort of blew me away today:

Woman sobs on stand under questioning by alleged rapist

A woman wept on the witness stand, at times uncontrollably, as her accused serial home invader and rapist, acting as his own attorney, grilled her about what happened that morning.

Nathan Martinez, 37, confronted his accuser in a Richland County courtroom in steady but accusatory tones, asking the woman if she had in fact really been raped during a March 2014 home invasion in Forest Acres. In her testimony for the prosecution, he said, she had not said anyone kicked or hit her.

“You said that the individual used force,” Martinez charged.

The woman, who now lives out of state with her family, replied, “He used force by putting a gun in my face, by tying me up and threatening to kill me!”

It was an unusual day in court. It’s rare for defendants to represent themselves, especially in complex, violent crimes such as this week’s case….

Yeah, John. To say the least…

You hear about rape victims feeling like they’re the ones on trial, but I have never even heard of something this outrageous.

I read on to determine how such a miscarriage of justice could occur, and found this explanation:

It was only after questioning Martinez and making sure he knew he was giving up his right to an attorney that trial Judge Knox McMahon allowed him to be his own lawyer. If McMahon had refused Martinez’s request to be his own attorney with cross-examination rights, the case could be overturned on appeal….

Well, I’m sure that you, like me, are all broken up from worrying about Martinez and his rights.

Look, I’m not one of these people who goes on and on about how our system only extends rights to the accused and none to the victims, yadda-yadda. I believe in the rule of law. I believe in being innocent until proven guilty. And while I’m sympathetic, I feel like sometimes the victim’s rights movement can go a tad overboard.

But a terrible thing happened in one of our courtrooms yesterday. Even if you extend the “innocent-until-proven-guilty” thing to the point of saying “hey, maybe the guy didn’t do it” — you’re left with the fact that to this innocent woman and her innocent children, he did do it. And they were subjected to this outrage.

And I’m wondering whether there are any statutory remedies out there to make sure this never happens again…

‘A bidness doin’ pleasure:’ Cindi on how Ron Cobb changed us

I hope y’all saw Cindi Scoppe’s column today on how the late Rob Cobb, the most infamous lobbyist in South Carolina history, changed our state:

I DIDN’T KNOW Ron Cobb back when he was buying up a tenth of our Legislature for the FBI.

Didn’t even recognize his picture when FBI agents subpoenaed campaign disclosure reports for all 170 legislators, and legislators and fellow lobbyists started whispering that Mr. Cobb was somehow involved in what would come to be known as Operation Lost Trust.

In fact, while I would learn and write a lot about the cigar-chomping lobbyist who hummed his signature “It’s a bidness doing pleasure with you” while the hidden video camera recorded him counting out crisp $100 bills for legislators who promised to support his horse-gambling bill, I didn’t actually meet him until five years later…

He certainly had a big impact on Cindi and me. We did some of our best work ever chasing the Lost Trust story. Before it was over, Cindi herself had gone to jail, and I had spent a year explaining everything that was wrong with government in South Carolina. Our coverage of the scandal, and my “Power Failure” series, played a big role in my becoming editorial page editor later.

All because of Ron Cobb buying votes and wheeling and dealing from his room in the former Townhouse, just yards from where I now sit. That hotel is undergoing a huge renovation, much as our political life did as a result of Cobb’s actions:

Our news department launched a yearlong examination of how the Legislative State produced not only corruption but a hapless government that answered to no one, and pushed along by that “Power Failure” series, Lost Trust and Gov. Carroll Campbell, the Legislature voted two years later to hand a third of the government over to the governor.scoppeonline3-2x2tighter-2-2x2tighter-2

Lawmakers unleashed the powerful State Grand Jury to investigate political corruption cases. They passed a reporter shield law after a judge ordered me and three other reporters held in federal custody for two days for refusing to testify in one of the trials. And voters elected a target of an earlier vote-buying scandal to fill an open Senate seat in the middle of all this, lawmakers amended the constitution to bar felons from holding office until 15 years after they completed their sentences.

There are still a lot of problems with the way our government operates — the Legislature still holds far too much power over state and local agencies, too many agencies still effectively answer to no one, the ethics law even after this year’s improvements remains far short of what it should be.

But those reforms did a lot of good. And Ron Cobb paved the way for every one of them.

Oh, and speaking of Warthenesque writing… I also appreciated this column because its style was more like my own than Cindi’s. Finally, it seems, I’ve rubbed off on her.

Cindi has always been very task-oriented. When she goes into an interview, she’s all business. When she writes a column or editorial, she intends to accomplish this and this and this, and she lays out her arguments in a perfectly disciplined form.

My own way of approaching interviews or writing has always been like the method Dirk Gently, Douglas Adams’ Holistic Detective, employed whenever he got lost: “My own strategy is to find a car, or the nearest equivalent, which looks as if it knows where it’s going and follow it. I rarely end up where I was intending to go, but often I end up somewhere I needed to be.”

I loved this digression into purely superfluous detail:

It was June 26, 1995, and I was working on a “where are they now” package of news articles for the upcoming five-year anniversary of Lost Trust becoming public. We met near the interstate, and I followed him to his townhouse overlooking the 10th hole of one of Greenville’s premier golf courses.

Longtime girlfriend-turned-wife Shelley was there to greet us, and they showed off their rooftop garden, where Ron was growing tomatoes and cucumbers, and the Stairmaster he said he used for 10 to 15 minutes every day after work, and he talked about how his values had changed since his career as a lobbyist ended. Of course we also talked about Lost Trust and the Legislature and what he thought had and hadn’t changed, and Shelley talked as much as Ron did.

I don’t remember all those details; I got them from reviewing my notes from our lengthy visit. The only clear memories I have of that rarefied encounter are the rooftop and Bella — the cat who kept running toward the wall and hurling herself into it. Ron and Shelley laughed each time, and assured me the cat was fine, that she just did that for attention….

A problem with the new Passport parking system

ticket

I’ve enjoyed, for the most part, using the city’s new Passport parking app. I haven’t minded — much — paying that 35-cent-a-session fee for the convenience.

And of course, the most convenient thing about it is that wherever you are, you can extend your parking session — by 15, 30, 45 minutes, an hour or more. No more excusing yourself from a meeting and running a block to plug in more quarters.history

But here’s the thing I don’t like: If you miss the end of your session by so much as a split second, you can’t extend the session. And worse, you can’t start a new one!

And I see absolutely no reason for this. If I were doing it the 20th century way, no one would stop me from going down and plugging another quarter in. So why should this new technology, which has no reason to be, be even less convenient in that regard than the old way?

This problem doesn’t arise if the app works as advertised. It’s supposed to give a two-minute warning before the session runs out — plenty of time to tap in an extension. But in my experience, that warning comes only about half the time.

Here’s what happened to me today, as evidenced by the ticket above and the screenshots at right…

I started a one-hour session on Assembly Street at 9:01 a.m., and went up for my breakfast. (Oh, for the troll out there who always acts SHOCKED at the hour at which I start my day, see what happens to your body clock after decades of working at a morning newspaper. I start my day later than average, and work on later than most in the evening. As I did all those years at the paper.)

Anyway, I had just started reading another item on my iPad (I read three newspapers at breakfast, plus other stuff brought to my attention via social media) when it occurred to me that my session must be almost up. As it happened, I checked precisely at 10:01, and it said my session had just expired. So I immediately tried to start another session — just 15 minutes — to give me enough time to get to my vehicle (and then some).denied

I got the rejection you see at right (click to make it bigger). As I expected. I shrugged, knowing I was already in violation (but a bit peeved that I was being prevented from addressing that), finished reading what I was reading, and headed down to my truck. I got there at 10:12. The ticket on my windshield had been written at 10:06 — five minutes after my good-faith effort to extend my session by 15 minutes.

Yep, I courted that ticket by reading for another few moments before heading down. If I had not, I probably would have arrived at the moment the meter maid was printing out the ticket.

So no foul. Late is late, and them’s the rules of the game.

But isn’t the point of the Passport app to allow people to do what I was more than willing to do — pay more for a few minutes more, just as I would be allowed to do were I standing at the meter with coins or Smart Card in hand? (And remember, I was NOT trying to exceed the meter’s two-hour limit — I would have been 45 minutes short of that.)

This seems a flaw in the system to me. And I see no good reason for it. Do you?

I’ve got no beef with paying this fine — despite the failure of the warning that was supposed to sound and let me know I was nearing the end of my session. But I do think this “lockout” feature, which seems a matter of policy, should be changed.

OK, now THIS was news: FBI chief recommends ‘no charges’ on Clinton email

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Seconds after I posted wonder why the chattering classes went ape over Hillary Clinton’s weekend interview with the FBI, actual news was made on that front.

Here’s how I characterized what FBI Director James B. Comey had to say:

We’ll continue to argue over her judgment in setting up and using the private server. We will rightly be concerned over the potential for hostile governments and private actors to have obtained access to classified material, thanks to her carelessness.

But there will almost certainly be no indictment, unless federal prosecutors completely disregard the recommendation of the FBI.

Which could happen, but which seems unlikely.

I’m guessing that those pundits who said the FBI interview was part of a terrible week for Clinton will now be touting this as a big win. And this time, they’ll be right.

Explain to me how FBI interview exacerbated Hillary’s problem

On the way to the beach Saturday, I had my phone off my hip, plugged into the car and sitting perched on the ashtray pulled out from the dashboard. My wife, who insists on continuing to use a flip phone and is not accustomed to such distractions, kept picking it up to look at it when a tone would announce a news alert.

There were some bulletin-worthy items, such as the death of Elie Wiesel and the arrest of Columbia City Councilman Moe Baddourah on domestic violence charges. But one puzzled her:

FBI

Why, she wondered, was that interesting enough to bother people with? I couldn’t really answer that, since I thought the same thing. It was a turn of the screw in an ongoing process, very much dog-bites-man. Maybe you take note of it in the course of the day’s news; it might even have its own headline. But even in this bulletin-mad era we lived in, it was hardly worth asking people to stop what they’re doing to read about it.

Others seemed to disagree. In fact, it was treated like some major blow to the Clinton campaign, on a level with Bill “It’s All About Me” Clinton’s idiotic tête-à-tête with the attorney general.

As The Washington Post said,

Hillary Clinton’s weekend interview with the FBI stands as a perfect symbol of what is probably her biggest liability heading into the fall election: A lot of people say they don’t trust her.

Clinton sat for an interview of more than three hours as part of a Justice Department investigation into the privately owned email system she operated off the books when she was secretary of state. The timing — less than three weeks before she will claim the Democratic presidential nomination — is an attempt to make the best of a situation that would look bad for any candidate but is particularly damaging for Clinton.

That the interview at FBI headquarters was voluntary does not expunge the whiff of suspicion surrounding the entire email affair that, for many voters, confirms a long-held view that Clinton shades the truth or plays by her own rules….

OK, y’all, explain to me why this was a big deal, or any kind of a deal. If she had refused to be interviewed, that would be news. If they interviewed her and learned something new and told us about it, that, too, would be news. But this? How is it more than a take-note-of-in-the-name-of-transparency thing?

We knew the FBI was investigating Hillary’s emails. They’ve been doing so forever. That’s why it was a big deal that Bill chatted with the AG.

The FBI interviews the subjects of investigations. I mean, right? Why wouldn’t they? It’s not like the headline was “FBI interviews Clinton and decides to charge her.” That would definitely be bulletin-worthy, because it would mean that it’s even more likely that a neofascist will occupy the White House. It would be more than news. It would be history. And not the good kind…

Donnie Myers makes list of America’s 5 ‘deadliest prosecutors’

And it’s getting lede treatment by The Guardian, in keeping with that newspaper’s fascination with us barbarous Americans with our guns and capital punishment.

Excerpts:

The five are profiled in a new report from Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project. Titled America’s Top Five Deadliest Prosecutors, the report highlights the lion-sized role in the modern death penalty of just four men and one woman. Donnie Myers

They are: Joe Freeman Britt of Robeson County, North Carolina; Donnie Myers of Lexington, South Carolina; Bob Macy of Oklahoma County; Lynne Abraham of Philadelphia County; and Johnny Holmes of Harris County, Texas….

Myers is the only one of the five who is still in office, with plans to retire at the end of the year. The lawyer, the one with the electric chair paperweight on his desk, did not respond to the Guardian’s questions about his inclusion in the top five club of deadliest prosecutors.

He achieved 39 death sentences in the course of his 38 years in practice but labored under a 46% rate of misconduct that was later discovered. Six of his death sentences were overturned due to problems in the way he had secured a capital sentence – often involving discriminatory exclusions of jurors based on race.

The report notes that Myers once rolled a baby’s crib draped in black cloth in front of a capital jury and, crying profusely, told them that a failure to return a death sentence would be like declaring “open season on babies in Lexington County”. In another death penalty case, he referred to the black defendant as “King Kong”, a “monster”, “caveman” and “beast of burden”….

Myers, of course, will be replaced by former deputy Rick Hubbard, after Hubbard’s victory in Tuesday’s primary.

Here’s part of what Cindi wrote about Hubbard in The State‘s endorsement of him:

Mr. Hubbard doesn’t speak ill of his former boss, but he does acknowledge that there have been problems in the office. He does note that he does not share Mr. Myers’ “old-school style of doing things.” And he makes a convincing case that he would represent a clean break….

Mr. Hubbard also seems to have the deepest appreciation of the three of the moral duty of a prosecutor to seek justice regardless of public opinion, and to seek justice even when that means losing a case. As he put it, “A prosecutor’s job is to do the right thing and to do it for the right reason.” After 40 years of a win-at-any-cost solicitor, the people in Lexington, Edgefield, McCormick and Saluda counties deserve a prosecutor who is deeply committed to putting justice first, always, and who has the experience and expertise to deliver that justice in a steady, reliable way….

Response to Post series from James Flowers

I got this comment over the weekend from James Flowers, Leon Lott’s opponent for the Democratic nomination for Richland County sheriff:

Brad Warthen. You should have reached out to me before writing this article so that you would have actual facts instead of what is written in this article by the civil attorney. First of all, as a SLED agent we investigate CRIMINAL actions. This was a CIVIL deposition. My only purpose is to gather the facts and provide them to the James FlowersSolicitor. What you obviously don’t know is that the Solicitor’s office, the FBI, and the US Attorney’s office reviewed my report and had ZERO issues with the work. The Solicitor’s office made the determination that there was no criminal action on the part of the law enforcement officers not Me or SLED. Also, when 3 certified law enforcement officers that are serving 2 valid warrants have any sort of weapon pointed at them, they should by all means respond with deadly force. A real law enforcement leader stands behind and supports law enforcement officers 100% when they are right. Even if he has to be arrogant to do it. This article is nothing more than a hit piece orchestrated by an overzealous civil attorney who has a different legal standard than law enforcement does in reviewing shootings. I also noticed that you didn’t mention the unflattering second article about your friend Lott. So please do some due diligence prior to your next blog. Thank you. James Flowers.

As it happens, the last person to get on my case for not having contacted him before posting something was… Leon Lott. And he kind of had a point, from his perspective, since the point of the post he called about was to wonder aloud why the sheriff hadn’t done a certain thing. Turns out that he had an answer to the question that he wanted to share.

I will always, always be on the defensive when people say I should have contacted them before posting something. But here’s the thing, folks: This is  a commentary blog, not a primary news source. I read things, and I react to them. And invite you to react to my reactions. On the rare occasions that I have time to go out and cover an event myself, I do so. Look back — you’ll see that’s my M.O. It’s not optimal; I wish I could afford to blog full-time. But WYSIWYG.

As it is, I don’t find time to comment on as many things as I’d like to — not even close to it. I’m very straightforward with you about the basis of my comments, so you can look at what I’m looking at and challenge my conclusions. And your comments, like Mr. Flowers’, get posted as well.

In this case, I spent way more time than I usually spend on a single post because it took so long for me to read that 7,000-word Washington Post article on which it was based. As I said, I’d read that one story and the fourth piece from the series by Radley Balko (more accurately, I skimmed the fourth piece). Now that Mr. Flowers has said Lott looks bad in the second installment of the series, I’ll go read that, and share what I find. I probably won’t have time to read the third piece today, but if you get there ahead of me, please share what you find.

Oh, and I don’t plan to call Leon before sharing what I find in that second installment. The story says what it says, and that’s what I’ll be reacting to — as per usual.

Although if I can find the time later, this subject is interesting enough that I might go above and beyond (in other words, take the kind of time I did back when I got paid to do this) and give both Lott and Flowers a call. But it remains to be seen whether that will be possible between now and next Tuesday’s primary.

Maybe some of my colleagues out there in the community who still get paid to do such reporting will get to it ahead of me. Let’s hope so.

Anyway, I welcome Mr. Flowers to the conversation.

WashPost raises serious questions about SLED probes — and about Lott’s primary opponent, James Flowers

Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. It raises loud alarms.

I regret that I failed to read any of this series from The Washington Post until our own Jeff Mobley brought it to my attention. I remember seeing a rather lurid headline about law enforcement in SC, noting that the story was very long (more than 7,000 words) and meaning to go back and read it later. I never did.

I should have.

Basically, the series reports that while South Carolina has looked pretty good for investigating officer-involved shootings in the last couple of years, those few cases don’t tell the whole story by a long shot. In fact, this series suggests that our system of having such shootings investigated by SLED (everywhere but in Richland County) looks good in theory, in practice it falls far short of providing a credible check on police.

The series begins with the horrific story of the death of Lori Jean Ellis, a 52-year-old black woman, at the hands of cops in 2008.

There was a lot in police accounts of her killing to raise questions, but none more dramatic than the weapon with which she was supposed to have fired at the officers before they fired back with deadly effect. They reported see a flash and smoke from a weapon that, based on its loud report, could only have been a high-powered rifle.

It was a pellet gun. Which means, for those not hip to such things, that it would not produce smoke, a flash or a bang. And it’s not entirely clear that she fired it at them, or even aimed it at them.

And yet the officers were never questioned about this discrepancy, a lapse that this report suggests is all too common in SLED investigations.

You might think Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott would come out looking pretty bad in these reports, since his department doesn’t even go in for the window-dressing (at least, these reports suggest it’s only window-dressing) of SLED investigations, preferring to handle such shootings internally.

But, at least in the two installments I’ve read so far, is not the case. In fact, in one case, he comes out looking better than others — as the only officer who spoke to the journalist who wrote the series, Radley Balko. (Although his comments dismissing the need for outside investigations didn’t inspire confidence.)

On the other hand, his opponent in this month’s primary looks pretty horrible.

James Flowers was the lead SLED investigator in the shooting of Lori Jean Ellis. And he showed a shocking lack of concern over the discrepancies in the officers’ account. From his deposition in a lawsuit brought by the estate of Ms. Ellis:

Phillips: So did anything prevent you, from the moment that you found out it was a mere BB gun, to say, “I want to go back and talk to this deputy . . .”

Flowers: Nothing prevented me from doing that.

James Flowers

James Flowers

Phillips: Okay. Why didn’t you go back?

Flowers: Because I didn’t feel it necessary.

Phillips: So someone telling you something that you’ve never seen before, that doesn’t compel you to maybe follow up?

Flowers: No. Not in all cases . . .

Phillips:  . . . so if I tell you something that can’t physically happen, you’re just going to take my word for it?

Flowers: See, here’s the thing. As the lead investigator for the state’s premiere law enforcement agency, it is my responsibility to put this case together. After looking at this information, I deemed that it was not necessary to interview that officer again. And that was the decision that I made….

As a police expert interviewed for the series notes,

““The arrogance here is stunning,” Downing says. “This response either reveals Flowers’s incompetence or his bias. Either way, he should not be conducting investigations of officer-involved shootings.”

You should go read the whole thing, or at least that first installment. It’s disturbing.

By the way, there are mentions in the series about legislation to make changes to such procedures in S.C. I’m unclear as I write this as to what happened to that legislation in the session that ended yesterday…

What about those of us who just lust in our hearts?

Wendy from "Breaking Bad"

Wendy from “Breaking Bad” — glamorous and empowering, right?

Sorry. I couldn’t resist. As much as I fondly regard Jimmy Carter, the setup proved irresistible:

To curb prostitution, punish those who buy sex rather than those who sell it

May 31

Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, is founder of the nonprofit Carter Center.

It is disturbing that some human rights and public health organizations are advocating the full legalization of the sex trade, including its most abusive aspects. I agree with Amnesty International, UNAIDS and other groups that say that those who sell sex acts should not be arrested or prosecuted, but I cannot support proposals to decriminalize buyers and pimps.

Some assert that this “profession” can be empowering and that legalizing and regulating all aspects of prostitution will mitigate the harm that accompanies it. But I cannot accept a policy prescription that codifies such a pernicious form of violence against women. Normalizing the act of buying sex also debases men by assuming that they are entitled to access women’s bodies for sexual gratification. If paying for sex is normalized, then every young boy will learn that women and girls are commodities to be bought and sold….

Makes sense to me, although I think human behavior is a bit more complicated than that. “John and pimp bad; prostitute innocent victim” is a formula that works much of the time, but it’s not always perfect. Still, an approach that gets women out of situations in which they see no alternative to selling their bodies is a good start.

As for the joke in the headline: Jimmy was right. In the licentious ’70s it was fashionable to mock him, but he was right. Rather than turning up his nose at the Playboy interview, he refused to be holier-than-thou, saying we’re all sinners, him included. And what better venue than a publication whose business model was entirely based on its readers looking and lusting?

c_fith_1280q_80w_720-http-images-origin.playboy.com-ogz4nxetbde6-uxVOyAPHTqmUWYWeI0cOa-7f93f23ce257bb3586059c01c1492198-cover_jimmy-carter

Feds to seek death penalty for Roof

BBC Roof

As you see above, some South Carolina news is leading the BBC.

Here’s John Monk’s version:

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday announced their intent to seek the death penalty against accused hate crimes Charleston church killer Dylann Roof.

“Dylann Storm Roof has expressed hatred and contempt towards African Americans, as well as other groups, as well as other groups, and his animosity towards African Americans played a role in the murders charged in the (last July’s) indictment,” the notice said.

Roof, 21, of Columbia, is white. All his victims were African American.

“Roof targeted men and women participating in a Bible-study group at the Emanuel AME Church in order to magnify the societal impact of the offenses,” the notice said.

David Bruck, one of Roof’s lawyers, said Tuesday the defense team would have no comment on the government decision….

Thoughts?

Personally, I’m always against the death penalty. Of course, if you’re going to have one, this would seem to be the sort of case it would be designed for.

That said, and once again if you are going to have capital punishment, it seems more legitimately the province of state government, and not the feds. And certainly not for Thoughtcrime, which seems to be the federal interest in this. This is the one thing that can bring out libertarian impulses in me, especially if you’re talking about executing people for having the wrong ideas, however abhorrent.

Roof stands accused of committing a horrific, unspeakable crime upon good people who were our neighbors here in South Carolina. I think our laws, and our courts, are perfectly capable of dealing with him.

This is definitely not the way one behaves at one’s club

I may look down upon the Palmetto Club from the lofty vantage point of my own (we are, after all, located more than 20 stories above it), but at least they have standards:

George McMaster, the brother of Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, was banned for life from the premises of the Palmetto Club and will never be allowed to be a club member again as part of a criminal sentence handed down on Thursday by a circuit judge.

In a 15-minute unannounced hearing at the Richland County courthouse, Judge Tanya Gee also sentenced McMaster to 30 days in jail, suspended on six months’ probation for assault and battery, third degree….

According to a statement of facts… read in open court, McMaster – then a member of the Sumter Street club – accosted a waiter at the club on May 13, 2014, started advising the waiter on his clothing, then cursed him, pulled his pants down to his ankles and touched him on his genitals and rear. At least part of the event was witnessed by another Palmetto Club employee, Bodman said….

Oh, wait — that was the court having standards, not the club. For its part, the club merely says it was “responsive” to the incident. Whatever that means. Presumably, the club is party to the ban from the premises, so that’s something.

Anyway… what bizarre, outrageous behavior. I don’t know what’s going on with the McMasters these days, but this is appalling. I mean, you know, WTF? That poor waiter…

Just the facts, ma’am — please

Cindi Scoppe’s picking on my girl Nikki again, and unfortunately, she deserves it. Did you see Cindi’s column Thursday?

FOR ALL THE good she has done on several issues, Gov. Haley retains two deeply troubling flaws: her disregard for the rule of law and her disinterest in the truth….

During a visit to a Columbia prison, Gov. Haley assured an inmate that police officers aren’t “out to get you.” Because of the state’s new body camera law, she said, “every one of those officers has to wear a body camera, and the reason is, that way it’s fair to them and it’s fair to you. So if something happens, we can see it.”

That sounds like a great law. But it’s not the law the governor signed, as The Associated Press’ Seanna Adcox pointed out — and bless her for recognizing that one of the most important things a reporter can do is to tell us what the facts actually are rather than simply regurgitating what public figures say the facts are.

The law does not actually require “every one of those officers” to wear a body camera; each department gets to decide which officers wear body cameras, and it won’t necessarily be every uniformed officer who wears a gun.

The requirement does not actually kick in until the state pays for the program — projected to cost up to $21 million, or about $18 million more than it has provided so far. (Ms. Adcox noted that the Legislature passed a law 18 years ago requiring all drunken-driving arrests to be videotaped, but the state still hasn’t provided cameras for all police cars.)…

Thanks, Cindi. And thanks, Seanna. But you know, it would be nice if governor would just state the facts so that journalists don’t have to run around behind her setting things straight. I mean, they have their hands full without that.

It gets worse, by the way:

Most significantly, the law the governor signed will not actually let us see the video. The law the governor signed says body-cam videos aren’t even public records. It does require police to turn over the video to people who are arrested or who file a civil suit involving the incident recorded, but the only mechanism for obtaining that video is filing a lawsuit — or being charged with a crime. Otherwise, it’s entirely up to police to decide whether we get to see the video when an officer shoots someone….

The initial error is probably innocent enough (I suspect it felt true to the governor), although disturbing — we’d really like our governors to know what they’re signing.

But the worst part of this tale is that when given a chance to set things straight, the governor’s office did not. And about that, Cindi said:

When someone says, “The law the governor described is not the law she signed,” the correct response is not, “She’s so proud of that law.” The correct response is: “Oh, my goodness; you’re right. She is so sorry about that.”

By refusing to let her spokeswoman say that, the governor continues to make herself un-credible. And in this case, she is doing something worse: She is reducing the chance that we’ll ever get the law she told that inmate we have. The law that would be something to be really proud of.

The way to get that law is not to say it exists when it doesn’t. It’s to acknowledge that it does not exist, and to work to convince the Legislature to pass it.

Yep.

WSJ: ‘Politics Is Not a Crime’

I’m sharing this for the headline as much as anything else.

When I saw that former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was arguing before the Supreme Court that he “had engaged in nothing more than politics as usual,” I thought, how sleazy can you get?

But then I saw the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal make the same argument, and this time I paid attention:

Bob McDonnell

Bob McDonnell

A jury convicted Mr. McDonnell in 2014 for taking more than $170,000 in gifts from a Richmond businessman who was also a family friend. The gifts included a $50,000 loan, $15,000 to finance their daughter’s wedding, fancy dresses, a Rolex watch and vacations. Let us stipulate that this is reckless and sleazy, and that the businessman hoped the Governor would take actions to promote his diet-supplement business.

The legal problem is that Mr. McDonnell never provided much of any quo for the quid. Virginia law lets politicians accept gifts, and prosecutors never charged him with violating state law. They charged him under federal law with performing “official acts” to benefit the business, but none of those acts influenced policy or changed a government decision.

Mr. McDonnell was convicted for attending a lunch at the executive mansion where the businessman’s company gave out grants to universities, for attending a reception with the businessman, for asking an aide about research pertaining to the company, and for arranging a meeting with his staff and the man.

This stretches the bribery statutes to criminalize the normal transactions of politics…

So basically, yeah, taking all those gifts was sleazy, but the man did not commit a crime. And they make a good case for that position.

For the WSJ, this fits with their overall limited-government guiding principle; they see the federal prosecutors as overstepping. It also afforded them the excuse to include this subhed: “If Bob McDonnell is guilty of corruption, then so is Hillary Clinton.”

But the larger point is also worth making. Just because we find something about politics distasteful doesn’t mean it’s a crime.

Often, it isn’t even sleazy — in this case, taking the gifts stank to high heaven, but what McDonnell did for the giver was in no way corrupt. As the Journal notes:

Public officials routinely act as boosters for local businesses. They also frequently meet donors and introduce them to others. Citizens also have the First Amendment right to petition their elected officials. If arranging a meeting for a benefactor qualifies as corruption, prosecutors will be able to target any politician in the country.

And that would be wrong.

Other lawmakers think solicitor should probe RCRC

BRP-Prk10

Bluff Road Park, one of the facilities overseen by RCRC.

This is an interesting wrinkle:

Four members of the Richland County legislative delegation now are asking Sheriff Leon Lott to turn over an investigation of the Richland County Recreation Commission to 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson.

In a letter sent Friday to Lott, Sen. John Scott, Sen. Darrell Jackson, Rep. Jimmy Bales and Rep. Christopher Hart ask Lott to engage the Solicitor’s Office in investigating any possible criminal activities of the legislative-controlled Recreation Commission….

Two weeks ago, Sen. Joel Lourie, Rep. Beth Bernstein and Rep. James Smith, asked the sheriff’s department to investigate the commission in light of further recent reports of possible criminal activity.

“We think it is a more appropriate channel” to have the solicitor investigate, Jackson told The State. “Our goal is just to get down to the bottom of this. If something criminal has happened, then we need to take action. … If there are no criminal activities, then we hope we will put this to rest.”…

So… what’s that about? Why the solicitor instead of Lott? I hope it’s not just as simple as a superficial analysis would suggest. This matter is rife with racial tension — until now, you’ve had white officials seeking an investigation of black officials. Is it meaningful that three white lawmakers sought for the white sheriff to investigate, while three black lawmakers and one white one want the black solicitor to be in charge?

Perhaps, in the minds of some, both white and black.

One thing I’m sure of: Anyone who would accuse Lourie, Smith, Bernstein or Lott of racism would be light years off base – and I can’t see Jackson, et al., doing that. So what’s the real reason for the other four lawmakers choosing this other course?

The story doesn’t mention, by the way, where the four stepping up on the issue today would back the call by Lourie, Smith and Bernstein to turn the commission over to county council — which is the most obvious reform measure from a legislative perspective…

FYI, Bobby Harrell is once again out there, in the public eye

Harrell

This is certainly just coincidence, but as the struggle between Alan Wilson and David Pascoe has been in the news, I keep running into Bobby Harrell on Twitter.

There he is, popping up with some frequency, still using the @SpeakerHarrell handle, even though the content is purely business, and “Speaker” is something he will never be again.

It has seemed to me that this started just as the ongoing legislative investigation hit the front pages again, but his re-emergence on social media predates that a bit.

Harrell was absent from Twitter from 10 Sep 2014 to 14 Apr 2015, and after that Tweeted infrequently and with no apparent aim for several months — two Tweets in April, one in May, none again until September. But in December he launched his campaign, Tweeting 32 times, then 43 times in January and 43 again in February, rising to 45 in March.

The content ranges from the blandly seasonal…

… to the kind of content meant to position himself and his company as authoritative on insurance-related matters:

And no, I haven’t seen him weigh in on politics even once.

It’s interesting that he decided to use his own feed, his own identity (complete with “Speaker”), to promote the business — as opposed to having an employee Tweet via a feed branded more directly with the name of the business (which is the approach he takes on the Facebook page). Apparently, he’s decided the value of his name recognition outweighs other considerations.

No, I don’t have any particular editorial point to make here. I just thought these renewed sightings were interesting…

Scoppe: The law tends to support AG Wilson’s position

Wilson presser

I was glad to see Cindi Scoppe’s column Sunday, in which she spelled out more clearly what I thought I knew about the Wilson/Pascoe contretemps: That as hard as it might be for the casual observer to see (particularly given Wilson’s emotional presser), the attorney general seems to be on the right side of the law in this.

As Cindi wrote:

Cindi croppedThere are three major issues here: Did Mr. Pascoe have the legal authority to initiate a State Grand Jury investigation, or did he need Mr. Wilson’s authorization? Did Mr. Wilson have the legal authority to remove Mr. Pascoe from the case? And was Mr. Wilson justified in removing Mr. Pascoe? That last question is entirely different from whether it was legal…

And as you find from reading the rest of her piece, her answers are:

  1. No, Pascoe did not have that authority; Wilson has to sign off on a State Grand Jury initiation. The law doesn’t allow the AG to delegate that, however he may recuse himself from any other involvement in a case.
  2. Yes, of course Wilson has the authority to remove Pascoe and assign someone else. The attorney general is the boss of the solicitors. As Cindi notes, “recusal is a voluntary thing, left entirely to the discretion of the prosecutor. In fact, when judges recuse themselves, it’s not uncommon for them to later unrecuse themselves.” When it comes to appointing and firing special prosecutors, recusal is neither here nor there; it does not vacate the AG’s constitutional authority.
  3. Finally, on the judgment call of removing Pascoe, Cindi is less certain — but she doesn’t doubt the purity of Wilson’s intentions: “In his mind, he had to remove Mr. Pascoe — not to stymie the investigation but to salvage it. I’m not certain that was necessary, but I believe that he believed it was.”

Personally, on that last point, it seems that Pascoe’s insubordination demanded his removal — if Wilson’s account is accurate. That is, if Pascoe did indeed refuse to meet with the AG’s office to get proper authorization for a State Grand Jury investigation, choosing instead to launch an attack on the attorney general.

But then, we’ve yet to hear Pascoe’s defense of his actions on Good Friday…

Angry, indignant AG Wilson says Pascoe chose politics over proper procedure

Wilson, backed by former attorneys generals Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster (Travis Medlock is off camera to the left)

Wilson, backed by former attorneys generals Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster (Travis Medlock is off camera to the left)

An angry, indignant Attorney General Alan Wilson, backed silently by three former attorneys general, said this afternoon that Special Prosecutor David Pascoe would have had the State Grand Jury investigation he says he wants if only he had met with Wilson’s office Friday as requested.

Instead, Wilson said, Pascoe chose to file a complaint about Wilson with the state Supreme Court, and apparently tip the media off that he had filed it.

Throughout his press availability Wednesday, Wilson insisted that a State Grand Jury investigation can only be called for by a joint request from the SLED chief and the attorney general, and the fact that he recused himself from the case does not change that requirement. (He also drew a distinction between his own voluntary recusal in “an abundance of caution” and involuntary “disqualification” by a judge.)

He said he stands ready to give that ratification for an investigation at the request of an “untainted” prosecutor — which he does not consider Pascoe to be.

“I’m here today to say that not only do I support a state grand jury investigation, but I’m here to tell you there will be a state grand jury investigation,” he said at the outset of the presser. “But it has to be done lawfully, and by someone who is not tainted.”

Wilson recounted the history of his involvement with Pascoe, going back to “the legal battle of our lives” trying to prosecute former House Speaker Bobby Harrell in 2014.

He said “Solicitor Pascoe was not my first choice, nor my second, nor my third, nor my fourth, nor my fifth…” because “The solicitors wanted no part of this case… they saw the living hell I was going through…”

“I had reservations, he said, “about Solicitor Pascoe’s temperament.” He said he was also concerned because someone related to Harrell had worked in Pascoe’s office.

In the end, he found the charges that Harrell pled to “disappointing,” but said “we were tired, and we just wanted to move on.”

As Pascoe continued investigating possible legislative corruption, Wilson said, the AG’s office had concerns about how Pascoe was conducting it a number of times, but let it pass.

When Pascoe tried to call for state grand jury involvement, “We had concerns… we wanted to fix his mistake…” So, he said, Pascoe was invited to meet with the AG’s office on Good Friday.

Pascoe declined to meet, and instead filed with the Supreme Court his petition for a writ of mandamus saying that Wilson was acting improperly.

Wilson said this document contained as “outright lie” — that he had sought to impede the investigation. He insisted that “at no time has anyone on my staff” done such a thing.

Wilson was mad about that. He was also mad that John Monk knew to show up at the court to get that petition Monday. When Wilson invited questions at the end of his statement and the first one came from John, he said he would answer the question if John would tell him how he knew the document had been filed. (Moments later, he apologized to John for being so confrontational.)

In the end, Wilson’s position is that he will ratify a request from an “untainted” prosecutor. But with Pascoe insisting Wilson can’t fire him and 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson declining to take over unless there is a definitive ruling on the matter of Pascoe’s firing, it’s unclear who that untainted prosecutor might be.

To all his critics, Wilson issued a challenge: “Keep doing what you’re doing… You do your worst, I will do my best.”

Anyway, that’s what Wilson had to say. This isn’t a complete news story until we hear from Pascoe and others. And we likely won’t know where all this is going until the Supreme Court makes a determination. For that matter, had I been in the room instead of watching this on a live feed from WIS, I’d have had some questions of people in the room.

But it was an extraordinary live performance by a very angry AG. When I find a complete video recording, I will embed it. (HERE’S THE VIDEO.)

Wilson

Our own Kathryn Fenner on the pellet-gun vandalism

I’ve been extremely busy the last few days — my wife was out of town and I was among other things filling in for her taking care of grandchildren part of the time — and I just now saw this, brought to my attention by Doug Ross.

For the sake of Kathryn and her neighbors, I hope they got the right guys