May 29, 2015

Former Charleston legislator avoids jail, must pay $70,000 and community service

Former State Sen. Robert Ford following his guilty plea in January (File)

Former State Sen. Robert Ford following his guilty plea in January (File)

A former Charleston state senator avoided prison time Thursday, but will have to serve 350 hours of community service and repay nearly $70,000 after pleading guilty to four ethics-related charges.

A circuit judge sentenced State Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, to a total of 12 years in prison for the charges, but suspended the sentence in favor of five years probation, $69,000 restitution, and community service.

Ford had agreed to plead guilty back in January to two counts of False Reporting, one for Misconduct, and another for Forgery. He was given seven years suspended on the misconduct charge, three for forgery, and one year each on the false reporting charges. He was given five years probation for each conviction, to be served concurrently.

Circuit Judge Robert Hood mentioned recent examples of other state politicians avoided prison on ethics charges before making his ruling. Former lieutenant governor Ken Ard also received five years probation and community service in 2012 on seven counts related to illegal personal reimbursements and filing false campaign reports. Former House Speaker Bobby Harrell had a prison sentence suspended last year in favor of three years probation and a $30,000 fine after pleading guilty to six counts of using campaign funds for personal expenses. Both of those men were Republicans.

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Former North Augusta cop indicted for fatal 2014 shooting

Former Public Safety Officer Justin Craven

Former Public Safety Officer Justin Craven

An Edgefield County grand jury has indicted a former North Augusta officer who shot and killed an unarmed man last year. It’s the latest step in an ongoing case that has slipped below the national radar when compared to other police shootings around the country.

The county Clerk of Court’s Office said the grand jury on Wednesday indicted former North Augusta Public Safety officer Justin Craven on a charge of discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle. Craven is accused of shooting 68-year-old Ernest Satterwhite as Satterwhite sat in a driveway following a high-speed police chase in February 2014. The former officer has already been indicted on a misconduct in office charge last year related to the incident.

Craven could face up to ten years in prison and a $1,000 fine if convicted.

State Law Enforcement Division investigators said the incident began when Craven tried to initiate a traffic stop on Satterwhite. Satterwhite led the officer on a 13-mile chase outside the city limits and into neighboring Edgefield County. According to reports at the time, the officer reported the chase got to speeds “in excess of 100 MPH.”

Eventually, Satterwhite arrived home and pulled into his driveway. The North Augusta officer came up to the side of the vehicle and fired at least three shots. Craven said Satterwhite had grabbed his gun and he opened fire because he feared for his life. Craven’s attorney has argued the shooting was justified.

State police have so far refused to release dashboard camera video of the incident, with SLED chief Mark Keel saying it would likely hurt Craven’s chance at a fair trial.

Legislators pick first new SC Supreme Court leader in 15 years

Pleicones talks to reporters shortly after his election Wednesday

Pleicones talks to reporters shortly after his election Wednesday

State legislators unanimously chose a longtime state Supreme Court judge to be the next Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Associate Justice Costa Pleicones (pluh-KOH-nus) was the sole candidate in the election to replace Chief Justice Jean Toal, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 72 this year. Toal has served as chief justice since 2000.

Pleicones will only hold the title for a year, however, as he turns 72 next year. A justice is allowed to serve out the rest of the calendar year after reaching the retirement age. He will take over as South Carolina’s top judge on January 1.

Pleicones said he will not make any “radical changes” to the court. “I don’t think any could be effective within the space of the one-year period,” he told reporters shortly after his election. “One thing that I do hope to be able to do is effect a smooth transition to the next long-term chief justice, whomever that happens to be.”

He was a municipal judge and Circuit Court judge prior to his election to the Supreme Court in 2000.

Toal won reelection last year in a close race against Pleicones with 95 legislator votes versus 74 for the challenger.

Sen. Scott testifies in favor of police body cam use

A U.S. Senate subcommittee chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham held a recent public hearing on the use of police body cams.

Graham’s colleague Sen. Tim Scott was among those who testified at the hearing. Scott supports expanding the use of the cameras. “Public complaints against officers wearing camera fall by ninety percent,” he told subcommittee members last week.

South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Jarrod Bruder testified on the cost of storing the video. “Our members shopped around and came back with a number of about $100 per month, per officer to store data.” Bruder also said South Carolina jurisdictions try to protect the privacy of all innocent individuals recorded on body cam video. “In doing that we make sure the individual victims of those crimes, that their identity is not shared.”

Scott said the purpose of the hearing was to look at all angles of the use of police body cams. “We are trying to determine how these cameras can be helpful and understand the concerns.”

The April shooting in the back of unarmed Walter Scott, who was black, by Officer Michael Slager, happened in Sen. Scott’s hometown of North Charleston.

 

 

 

Suspect in Berkeley County deputy shooting killed in standoff with police

Charleston Police say they have shot and killed a man suspected of critically injuring a Berkeley County deputy last week, ending a more than 10-hour standoff.

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen told reporters Thursday that 32-year-old Jerome Caldwell of Mount Pleasant was killed after he emerged from an apartment firing at officers outside. Negotiators had been trying to talk with Caldwell ever since around 3:47 a.m. when a State Law Enforcement Division agent approached the apartment with a warrant for his arrest. The standoff occurred at the Robert Mills Manor housing project in the center of Charleston’s peninsula, located a few blocks north of the city’s famous Broad Street.

Mullen said Caldwell slammed the door on the agent once the agent began asking questions. He later opened fire several times on police gathering outside. Mullen said negotiations were not successful and Caldwell eventually came out of the rear of the building firing his gun. Officers returned fire and Caldwell was struck. Coroner Rae Wooten said he died at the scene. No other injuries were reported.

Berkeley County Lt. Will Rogers was listed in critical, but stable, condition this week after he was shot in the back of the head at a Moncks Corner gas station on May 14. The shooting led to a massive manhunt on Friday in the rural areas north of the town.

Charleston Police have been evacuating residents since around 7:00 a.m, according to neighbors.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, and others have promised an $11,000 reward for information leading to the suspect.