South Carolina’s state prosecutors have created a new task force to review how their offices should handle police shootings.
Members of the state Prosecution Coordination Commission voted this week to create the task force to study the best practices of each of South Carolina’s 16 solicitors’ offices and their counterparts in other states.
South Carolina has no specific statewide law or procedures for handling the investigation of law enforcement, but usually shootings involving police or deputies are handled by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to avoid potential conflicts of interest. After SLED completes its investigations, the final decision on whether a shooting was justified or if it should be prosecuted is usually made by the local circuit solicitor.
Commission Chairman Duffie Stone said the new task force will make recommendations by December on potential best practices or new laws that should be adopted.
“Even if we’re convinced that what we’re doing is correct, I think sometimes it’s still beneficial to take a look at other prosecutors offices to determine if there’s something else that can improve upon what we’re doing,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.
Public attention has focused much more critically on law enforcement shootings over the past three years, particularly among minority communities who believe they are more likely to be the victims of police misconduct. Several recent officer shootings in South Carolina, most notably the killing of Walter Scott by a North Charleston police officer in April 2015, have only heightened those concerns. While the officer Michael Slager was later charged with murder by the Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s Office, critics are concerned that was only because a bystander’s video showed what happened.
Stone said he hopes the process can set guidelines and restore confidence in the investigations. “We want to make sure that whatever approach we’re taking is not only accurate, but also credible,” the solicitor for the 14th Judicial Circuit said. “And I think that’s important for everyone to know before we have a tragic event.”
South Carolina had 48 officer-involved shootings in 2015 — the most recorded since the state began tracing them in 2000 — and is on pace to match that total this year. The overwhelming majority of those shootings were later deemed justified because investigators or the solicitor had reason to believe the suspect presented a danger or that the officer’s life was in danger.