August 21, 2014

Two SLED agents cleared in shooting of murder suspect

A prosecutor has cleared two State Law Enforcement Division agents of any wrongdoing in the shooting death of a murder suspect outside a St. George hotel last month.

The July 22 incident occurred after investigators caught up to 37-year-old Vamond Elmore, who was wanted for murder in Norwalk, Connecticut, at a hotel near Interstate 95 in Dorchester County. A spokesman with the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office said at the time that about 20 deputies, SLED agents, and U.S. Marshals were on the scene. The spokesman said the SLED agents opened fire after Elmore came out of a hotel room and pointed a pistol at one of the agents.

In a letter to the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office released Monday, First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe said the two agents acted in accordance with the law, noting that Elmore had a lengthy and violent criminal history. He said the two SLED agents had identified themselves as law enforcement

“(The SLED agents) acted with the good faith belief that Elmore posed a significant risk of injury or death to themselves as well as other officers and citizens in the area,” Pascoe wrote. He added the two men had identified themselves as law enforcement shortly before Elmore pointed the weapon at them.

Normally SLED investigates officer-involved shootings in South Carolina, but the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office was handling the case to avoid a conflict of interest.

“The one thing this incident does establish is the danger law enforcement officers face every day,” Pascoe wrote, adding that his office now considers the matter closed.

York County deputy cleared of wrongdoing in traffic stop shooting

Dashcam video released by the York County Sheriff's Office shows Canipe pulling out his cane seconds before a nervous deputy began firing (Image: YCSO/WRHI)

Dashcam video released by the York County Sheriff’s Office shows Canipe pulling out his cane seconds before the nervous deputy began firing (Image: YCSO/WRHI)

No charges will be filed against a York County sheriff’s deputy who shot and wounded an unarmed 70-year-old man at a traffic stop in Clover earlier this year.

Dashboard camera video showed that Deputy Terrance Knox fired on Bobby Canipe after the latter reached into the bed of his pickup truck and grabbed what Knox believed was a shotgun. It was actually a cane. Canipe had to be hospitalized, but has since recovered from his injuries.

16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett, who led the state investigation, said Knox’s actions were understandable. “In every case, there has to be criminal intent,” he told Rock Hill station WRHI. “You have to do the wrong thing and know that what you’re doing is wrong. There has to be an intention to break the law. And there’s no question there was no criminal intent in this case.”

The deputy had stopped Canipe in February for an expired tag when the driver got out of his pickup truck and reached into its bed for a cane. In the video Knox, who told his superiors he thought the cane was a shotgun, can be heard yelling “Sir!” from his patrol car several times in an attempt to get Canipe’s attention. Eventually, he shouts “Whoa! Whoa!” and begins firing seconds after Canipe pulled out the object.

Brackett said the whole incident took place in less than four seconds and the dash cam video shows Knox immediately rendered first aid upon realizing his mistake. Investigators say Knox fired six shots, one of which hit Canipe in the stomach.

York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant immediately defended Knox’s actions at the time.

Brackett’s decision effectively closes the state’s probe into the matter.

Andrew Kiel of Rock Hill station WRHI contributed to this report


Former inmate sentenced for helping organize “hit” on prison guard

An Orangeburg man was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison for using a cellphone to help arrange a hit on a state corrections officer four years ago.

A federal judge handed the maximum sentence to 30-year-old Sean Echols after Echols pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to arrange a murder-for-hire. Echols’ sentence will begin after he finishes the 15 years he is currently serving for armed robbery and assault.

Capt. Robert Johnson, an officer in charge of confiscated illegal cell phones and other contraband at Lee Correctional Institute, was shot six times outside his Sumter home in March 2010. He survived, but has undergone 17 surgeries and become the face of South Carolina’s struggles to halt illegal phone use in its prisons.

“I’m content with what we were able to get,” Johnson told reporters after the hearing. “I would like to get more, but we couldn’t. So this is what we got. I’m content with it.”

Investigators said the shooting was done in retaliation as a direct result of Captain Johnson’s enforcement of contraband rules, including foiling several attempts to smuggle phones into the prison. Prosecutors say several inmates plotted to retaliate against Captain Johnson, so the contraband shipments would no longer be disrupted.

Echols was out of prison at the time, but investigators say he was in contact with another inmate inside the prison (who has not been named by authorities). Cell phone records linked Echols in the murder-for-hire plot and prosecutors say the mastermind inmate mailed a payment to the Orangeburg native.

Johnson told reporters that he thought he recognized the man who confronted him as a former inmate, but added his testimony would not have been considered reliable because he could not remember what happened.

Echols apologized to Johnson in court. The former officer said afterwards he forgave him, but added he was not sure Echols’ apology was sincere.

Johnson said he believes God wanted him to forgive his assailants.

Wife and brother of jailed Upstate Ponzi scheme leader now face charges


Ronnie Wilson (

Ronnie Wilson (

More charges have been filed against former Anderson County councilman Ronnie Wilson and members of his family over a Ponzi scheme that prosecutors say he operated.

Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that the 67-year-old Wilson — who is already serving a 19-year prison sentence for the scheme – was indicted along with his wife Cassandra Wilson, of Woodruff, and brother Timothy Wilson of Martin, Tennessee. A grand jury handed down a charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice and hide assets. The former councilman was also charged with making false statements to federal agents.

Authorities say Cassandra and Timothy helped Councilman Wilson stash at least $400,000 in cash, gold, and silver before a court-appointed receiver could find the money and try to disburse it to investors Wilson had defrauded though his business Atlantic Bullion and Coin.

“(The Wilsons) hid assets that should have been turned over to the receiver’s office in 2012,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Watkins told reporters in a Tuesday press conference.

The indictment states Ronnie Wilson hid the money in ammunition canisters, giving one to his brother in April 2012 and another to his wife a few months later. Prosecutors said Cassandra did not tell investigators about the money during a deposition this past February. The indictment also states Ronnie Wilson lied to a Secret Service agent when he told the agent he had not transferred or hidden any assets.

Wilson pleaded guilty in 2012 to federal charges of mail fraud. Prosecutors said Wilson did not buy silver like he was supposed to and created fictitious account statements for clients that showed their silver holdings when, in fact, he had not bought any silver for them. He also claimed to trade the silver by buying at low prices and then selling at peak prices to earn profits. Watkins said those were phantom trades and that Wilson used the money received from clients for his personal benefit. Prosecutors say Wilson also used money from newer clients to make pay outs to earlier clients when these earlier clients requested draws on their accounts. Three other people have been sentenced for their part in the scheme.

U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Bill Nettles said the discovery of Wilson’s hidden assets could help some investors get back at least some of their lost money.

“We take this very seriously about recovering money on behalf of victims who have been defrauded,” Nettles said. “What we’re doing is trying to get their future back. I mean, he stole their future and now we’re trying to get a part of that future back.”

If convicted, the three Wilsons could each face five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

On top of that, Ronnie Wilson could face an additional 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for the new lying charge.

SLED gets approval for first new chopper in 25 years

SLED Chief Mark Keel (FILE)

SLED Chief Mark Keel (FILE)

The State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) will soon have its first new aircraft in 25 years to help with state and local investigations.

The Budget and Control Board gave final approval Tuesday for SLED to purchase a new two-passenger helicopter. The approval comes a week after the Joint Bond Review Committee gave SLED the go-ahead to purchase the aircraft at an estimated cost of $3.5 million.

SLED Chief Mark Keel said the new chopper replaces a well-used aircraft that he says is “ready to be placed in a museum.”

“The aircraft we’re replacing is a 1968 model Vietnam-era helicopter and we’ve gotten all the useful life we can get out of that aircraft at this time,” he said after Tuesday’s vote.

The funds used to purchase the helicopter will come from money confiscated during investigations and fees collected for criminal record searches.

Keel said the purchase of a new helicopter was a major priority for his agency from a budgetary and safety standpoint.

“Our pilots fly missions every day,” he said. “And they fly missions that are very dangerous, quite frankly, because they are flying very low and very slow most of the time, so they need aircraft that are well-maintained.”

Keel said the purchase makes it possible for two helicopters to remain available for use by SLED.

The agency uses aircraft for various missions from manhunts to searches for vulnerable adults and missing children.

“The aircraft flies on a daily basis on missions from finding as lost child to finding an Alzheimer’s patient that has wondered away from their residence to going after armed fugitives. It really is a benefit to public safety.”

SLED currently employs four helicopters, including a 10-passenger model used for transport missions.