July 31, 2015

SC Atty Gen.’s Office: State law could allow confidential execution drugs

All executions in South Carolina are performed at the Broad River Correctional Institution (Image: SCDC)

All executions in South Carolina are performed at the Broad River Correctional Institution (Image: SCDC)

South Carolina’s top legal office is arguing that state law already allows pharmaceutical companies to confidentially provide execution drugs. If true, that could clear a path for South Carolina to obtain the drugs it says it lacks to perform lethal injections.

The state Department of Corrections has not executed a Death Row inmate since 2011. Agency director Bryan Stirling has said pharmaceutical companies — worried about public backlash — have stopped selling execution drugs like pentobarbital to states. The European Union has also barred any corporations headquartered there from selling any drugs to entities and governments that plan to use them in capital punishment. South Carolina law allows inmates to choose their execution method. Most select lethal injection.

Stirling has been pushing to change state law so that pharmacies mixing the drugs would be confidential — the same secrecy that state law already uses for personnel who are involved in the execution itself. A bill that would change South Carolina law to match Georgia’s confidentiality requirements failed to overcome opposition in the Senate this year.

But an opinion by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office released this week suggests such a legal change may not require Statehouse approval. Assistant Attorney General Brendan McDonald wrote that a broad interpretation of the state’s confidentiality laws may already cover the companies. “We believe the phrase ‘member of an execution team’ must be broadly construed to include an individual or company providing or participating in the preparation of chemical compounds intended for use by the Department of Corrections for ‘carrying out an order of execution by lethal injection.'”

The opinion is just meant to be advisory and is not legally binding. Stirling told the Associated Press he still plans to seek legislative approval first.

Death penalty opponents say such secrecy laws raise legal issues. Death Penalty Information Center director Rob Dunham has previously argued inmates would not know if the chemical compounds involved could be considered “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Authorities ID man shot by Lexington County deputies, say he attacked family member

Lexington County authorities have now identified a man who was shot and killed by deputies responding to a domestic incident near Irmo on Monday.

The county coroner’s office said 56-year-old Timothy Milliken died from multiple gunshot wounds to his upper body. The State Law Enforcement Division is investigating the incident, as it does for most officer-involved shootings in South Carolina.

A Lexington County Sheriff’s Department spokesman said deputies reported Milliken was attacking a family member with a knife when they arrived. Both deputies fired at Milliken, saying they feared for the life of the family member. The victim’s relationship to Milliken was not given in the initial reports to media outlets. A SLED spokesman told The State newspaper that the other individual remains in the hospital.

Both deputies are on administrative leave during the state investigation, which is also typical under South Carolina procedures.

The shooting was the 29th in South Carolina this year involving law enforcement officers, which The Associated Press reports is on pace for the most officer-involved shootings since the state began tracking the number in 2000. The current high is 45 such incidents in 2012. The total includes any incident where an officer discharged his or her weapon and includes both armed and unarmed suspects.

 

SLED investigating after Seneca officer shoots teen during attempted traffic stop

South Carolina state police are now investigating a Seneca officer’s fatal shooting of a teen in a fast-food restaurant parking lot Sunday night.

A Monday release from the Oconee County Coroner’s Office stated 19-year-old Zachary Hammond was killed after the officer “felt threatened” as Hammond drove toward him while fleeing an attempted traffic stop.

Seneca Police said the officer, who has not been publicly identified, is on administrative leave while the State Law Enforcement Division investigates — as is normal procedure for most police shootings in South Carolina.

Police said the stop was part of an undercover investigation. The coroner’s office said officers attempted to stop Hammond in the parking lot of a Hardee’s restaurant in northwest Seneca.

“(A) Seneca Police officer felt threatened by the deceased who was driving his car toward the officer attempting to make the stop,” Coroner Karl Addis said in the email. “The officer fired his weapon twice striking the deceased twice in the upper body.” Addis added an autopsy is scheduled on Tuesday.

Seneca Police Chief John Covington told FOX Carolina that a second individual was with Hammond at the time. He said that person was questioned but not arrested. Covington said both the officer and the deceased are white.

NC man gets community service, avoids prison, for Howard’s Rock vandalism

This 2013 image shows the damaged Howard's Rock (Clemson Police)

This 2013 image shows the damaged Howard’s Rock (Clemson University Police)

A North Carolina man accused of cutting a piece off Clemson’s famous Howard’s Rock will have to serve 25 days of community service, but will likely avoid prison.

A  jury in Pickens County found 20-year-old Micah Rogers of Pisgah Forest, NC guilty of malicious damage of less than $2,000 on Thursday. They acquitted Rogers of the more severe grand larceny charge. Circuit Judge James Barber sentenced Rogers to 30 days and a $1,000 fine, but that was suspended in favor of the community service and a $750 fine plus court fees. Under the conditions set by the judge, Rogers could face prison if he does not fulfill those requirements.

Defense attorney Frank Eppes said he thought that a fair ruling. “My client and his family respect the jury’s verdict,” he told reporters after the ruling. “We appreciate the time and attention they put into the case. We’re very pleased that his conviction is to a misdemeanor. I think the judge’s sentence was appropriate, given the situation.”

Shortly before the verdict was returned, the jury had told Judge Barber they were deadlocked. But he urged them to reach a decision and said it was unlikely new evidence would emerge if a new trial were called. The jury returned 20 minutes later with their split verdict.

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Imprisoned former Pee Dee sheriff faces new charges

Former Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson during his federal trial earlier this year (FILE)

Former Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson during his federal trial earlier this year (FILE)

A former Pee Dee sheriff who is already serving federal prison time for fraud now faces state charges on separate accusations.

The state Attorney General’s Office said Thursday that former Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson had been indicted on one count of misconduct in office. A former deputy under Johnson’s command, Jason Derek Lyerly, was also indicted on a misconduct charge Thursday.

Johnson was sentenced in March to 30 months in federal prison after a jury found him guilty of creating fake police reports to help a friend’s credit-repair business. He is serving that sentence at a minimum-security facility in West Virginia.

Prosecutors accused Johnson last year of filing at least 245 false police reports over an 18-month period to help customers of credit repair firm FIG Investments, LLC. The incident reports made it appear that FIG Investment customers had been the victims of identity theft, leading the credit rating bureau Equifax to improve those “victims’” credit scores.

The indictment released Thursday deals with a separate issue. It claims Johnson used sheriff’s department money to buy and repair a “Gator” utility vehicle and an “Arctic Cat” all-terrain vehicle for his personal use. The indictments further state the then-sheriff also gave the vehicle to Lyerly to use.

Both men face up to 10 years in state prison if convicted.

Johnson was first elected as a Democrat in rural Williamsburg County in 2010, but had been with the department for 11 years before that. He was suspended from office shortly after the federal charges against him were announced in February 2014.