October 30, 2014

“This was about sending a message” USC professor discusses his Russia detainment

Randy Covington (Image: University of South Carolina)

Randy Covington (Image: University of South Carolina)

University of South Carolina journalism professor Randy Covington said he does not think his detainment in St. Petersburg, Russia earlier this month was an innocent mistake by the Russian government.

Covington was in the country at the time to moderate an October 16 investigative journalism workshop on behalf of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. The professor said Russian officials interrupted the beginning of the workshop that he former Boston reporter Joe Bergantino were teaching that day, saying the two men had the wrong visas to teach Russian journalists.

Covington and Bergantino needed business visas instead of the tourist visas which they used to enter the country, according to a statement by the Russian government released that day. The two journalists were given a visa hearing and a Russian court allowed them to leave the country the following day.

Covington said he was detained for about five hours. He insisted that the U.S. State Department had advised them to use a tourist visa. [Read more...]

Harmful chemicals, bacteria in Congaree National Park water

(Courtesy: NPS)

(Courtesy: NPS)

New tests have found harmful levels of chemicals and sewage in water that flows into Congaree National Park near Columbia, according to a new report.

The State newspaper noted preliminary water studies released by the U.S. Geological Survey that found traces of birth control drugs, medicines to control diabetes, and even e.Coli bacteria in Congaree’s waterways.

The researchers outlined their findings during a water issues conference hosted by Clemson University earlier this month. The study identified leaking septic tanks and small sewage plant discharges as likely sources of the bacteria. There is no regional sewer network in the southeastern Richland County area where the national park is located.

The study found trace amounts of birth control medicine, hormones, and mood stabilizers in the water, likely from pharmaceuticals that made their way into sewage and then leaked into groundwater. The USGS researchers said even small amounts of the drugs in the water can hurt fish reproduction or make them slow to react to predators.

The amount of such chemicals were tiny, however — only reported as several parts per trillion. But the USGS worried that even microscopic levels could have a noticeable impact on the environment. The study did not examine fish populations or if the levels were having an actual effect.

Harrell makes it official, resigns from House in letter

Harrell served as House Speaker for 9 years (File)

Harrell served as House Speaker for 9 years (File)

Former South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell has now officially resigned from the House of Representatives.

Harrell submitted a brief resignation letter to the House Clerk dated Thursday, saying he would also withdraw from the House election in two weeks.

“Pursuant with the court agreement, I am informing you that am withdrawing from the 2014 election and resigning my office in the South Carolina House of Representatives at 5:00 pm (Thursday),” he wrote.

Harrell had been suspended from the Speaker’s position ever since his indictment on nine counts last month related to misuse of campaign funds and lying about it to state ethics officials. Harrell pleaded guilty to six of the misuse counts on Thursday. As part of the deal, Harrell was required to give up his House seat for at least three years. He had represented House District 114 since 1993 and was elected Speaker in 2005.

Prosecutors said Harrell used campaign money to pay for nonexistent flights on his private plane. The Charleston Republican said he disagreed with the charges but pleaded guilty because he and his family did not want to fight them any longer.

Speaker pro tempore Jay Lucas has served as acting House Speaker since Harrell’s suspension. Most observers believe he will be elected to the position for good once lawmakers return after Election Day.

Man shot by state trooper says he hasn’t seen video, wants felony conviction of cop

Trooper Sean Groubert points his handgun and yells at Jones to "get out of the car" seconds before opening fire in this dashcam video (Image: SC Highway Patrol)

Trooper Sean Groubert points his handgun and yells at Jones to “get out of the car” seconds before opening fire in this dashcam video (Image: SC Highway Patrol)

An unarmed man shot by a South Carolina Highway Patrol trooper last month says he is recovering and getting support from around the country, but he wants the trooper who shot him to be prosecuted.

During an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show Friday morning, Levar Jones said it’s too painful to watch the dashboard camera video of the incident that ended with him in the hospital and the trooper suspended.  The Highway Patrol later fired Trooper Sean Groubert after the Sept. 4 shooting and he now faces aggravated assault and battery charges. Department of Public Safety director Leroy Smith said the video showed the trooper had “reacted to a perceived threat where there was none.”

Jones told the Today Show that he hopes Groubert is convicted on the felony charge. “I really feel he needs to be charged with something that holds felony status,” he said. “That way he will… no longer be able to carry a gun, will no longer be able to be a police officer.”

The September 4 incident occurred at a gas station in northwest Columbia. The dashcam video shows Trooper Sean Groubert pulling up behind Jones’ SUV, just as Jones is stepping out of his car. Groubert asks the driver for his license. Jones feels his back pocket, then turns around to reach into his car. At that point Groubert yells “Get out of the car!” before immediately firing four shots, including one after Jones raised his hands into the air.

In the video, Jones goes to the ground and appeals, “I just got my license. You said get your license.” Groubert then asks Jones if he was hit and calls for an ambulance after the other man states he can’t feel his leg. “Why did you shoot me?” Jones can be heard asking. Groubert responds, “Well, you dove headfirst back into your car, then you jumped back out.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear two words,” Jones answers. Later, the injured driver asks Groubert why he had been stopped. Groubert answers, “Seat belt violation,” to which Jones angrily answers, “Seat belt? I just pulled it off right there at the corner as I pulled into the gas station.”

Jones said he does not think he will ever take the time to watch the video. “It brings back a lot of memories, for one,” he said. “Second off, it’s something that I really just have no interest in watching.”

Jones says over the past several weeks he has come to realize that the incident has not only affected, but the video has moved a lot of people emotionally. He said total strangers have told him they started crying after watching the video. “This is a situation where, right now, we need to take all these feelings and put them into a bigger cause.”

He added that he would like to see dash cams more widely used by law enforcement, as well as body cameras on their person that can record similar incidents away from a police cruiser.

Chesterfield County Courthouse shooter sentenced to 30 years

Chesterfield County Courthouse (Image: SC Judicial Department)

Chesterfield County Courthouse (Image: SC Judicial Department)

A man who shot two people at the Chesterfield County Courthouse last year was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison.

A jury found 58-year-old Curtis Gorny guilty of multiple charges, including attempted murder, possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, and failure to stop for blue lights.

Prosecutors said Gorny shot Olivia Weaver and her stepfather Johnnie Nolan outside the courthouse in February 2013. Both survived, although Weaver had serious wounds in her face and stomach. Investigators said the attack came shortly after a family court judge had ruled Gorny must pay child support for a child he had fathered with Weaver. He had not attended the hearing.

Prosecutors said that, after shooting the victims, Gorny led Chesterfield County deputies on a 12-mile chase. The sheriff’s office said Gorny fired at deputies during the chase before they finally forced him into a ditch just outside the Pageland town limits.

The Fourth Circuit Solicitor’s Office said Gorny must serve 85 percent of his sentence before he will be eligible for parole.