November 27, 2014

Suspended Lexington County Sheriff’s case to be in court next week

Lexington County Sheriff Jake Metts (Image: LCSD)

Lexington County Sheriff Jake Metts (Image: LCSD)

Suspended Lexington County sheriff James Metts is arguing in court filings that federal corruption allegations against him should be tossed out.

Metts is accused of taking bribes from the owner of the Midlands-based San Jose restaurants in exchange for releasing some San Jose employees who had been detained for being in the country illegally. The Associated Press reports Metts’ attorneys say the worst the sheriff is guilty of is not reporting the releases to the Feds. Both sides will be in court next week.

Earlier this month, Metts’ lawyers filed papers saying the worst their client did was break a reporting contract with the Department of Homeland Security over a special immigration detention center the county was operating. Prosecutors say Metts conspired to set up the bribery arrangement and should be tried on all 10 counts against him.\

Gov. Nikki Haley suspended Metts from his position in June after his indictments. Federal prosecutors accuse South Carolina’s longest-serving sheriff of bribery and conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens. The indictments claim that the restaurant owner Gregorio Leon would contact a “business liaison” with the Sheriff’s Department, to ask for help with employees who had been detained on immigration violations. The liaison would then arrange for Metts to receive cash in exchange for his help, according to the indictments. Leon also faces bribery counts.

Metts entered a “not guilty” plea and has requested a jury trial.

Dillon councilman among 11 arrested on gambling charges

Councilman James Washington (Courtesy: City of Dillon)

Councilman James Washington (Courtesy: City of Dillon)

A Dillon city councilman was among 11 people arrested earlier this week for their role in what state police say was an illegal gambling operation, according to warrants from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

61-year-old Councilman James Washington was arrested when SLED and the Dillon County Sheriff’s Office raided two businesses in Dillon that they believed were housing illegal gambling operations. Washington was charged with three counts of Betting, Pool Selling, Bookmaking and the like.

WPDE-TV reports arrest warrants state Washington sold $5 baseball, $6 football and $2 football tickets to a pool, with the winner to be determined based on the results of professional sports games.

Ten others were also arrested in Tuesday’s bust on similar charges. A North Carolina man was also charged with possession, manufacture, and trafficking of methamphetamine and cocaine base. The warrants did not name the businesses where they said the gambling was occurring between May and November of this year.

The crimes happened between May 16 and November 12 of 2014, the warrant says. SLED said its officers also seized thousands of dollars in cash, drugs, moonshine whiskey and arrested eight people.

Washington is involved with legal gambling in North Carolina, where he helps manage the Lucky Strike Casino located just across the state line. He was shot and injured during an October 2011 robbery at the business.

He has served on the Dillon City Council since 1999.

Supreme Court refuses to delay same-sex marriage licenses in SC

U.S. Supreme Court (Image: SCOTUS)

U.S. Supreme Court (Image: SCOTUS)

The U.S. Supreme Court says it will not issue an emergency stay in the ongoing lawsuit over same-sex marriage licenses in South Carolina.

The court on Thursday morning said it would not extend the stay that was preventing couples from obtaining licenses in South Carolina. The order was released only two hours before the stay issued last week  by a federal judge would expire. The ruling means same-sex marriage applications will now be accepted in all counties beginning at noon.

Attorney General Alan Wilson has no further means of delaying the process, but said he hoped the Supreme Court would eventually take up the case. “(T)he U.S. Supreme Court has not yet resolved conflicting rulings by federal appeals courts on the issue of same sex marriage,” he said in a statement released by his office. “When the U.S. Supreme Court decides to consider the case, our office will be supporting the position of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is more consistent with South Carolina State law, which upholds the unique status of traditional marriage.”

The Supreme Court decided 7-2 against hearing South Carolina’s arguments, with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in the minority.

When U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled last week that South Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, he gave the state a week to appeal. That meant county probate judges would not issue licenses until higher courts acted. That deadline expired at noon Thursday with the state exhausting all of its  avenues to extend it. Wilson does have the option to appeal Gergel’s ruling itself within 30 days (the previous motions only dealt with whether counties could grant licenses while he did so).

Two counties began issuing licenses on Wednesday. Probate judges in Charleston and Richland counties moved ahead after the South Carolina Supreme Court lifted its own stay Thursday afternoon. A couple in Charleston — Kristin Anderson and Kayla Bennett — got their license Wednesday (they had applied in October, before the stay was implemented) and had a ceremony on the courthouse steps. The two are believed to be the first same-sex couple officially married in South Carolina. Other couples who have not applied in the past will have to wait 24 hours before getting their license, which is traditional for any marriage in South Carolina.

Some couples paid the fee to apply for a license in Columbia, but were told to come back once the court acted. One of those pairs was Ed Madden and Bert Easter, who said they have been in a relationship for 20 years.

“I think we both always felt that South Carolina would be one of the last states,” Madden told South Carolina Radio Network. “So we’re both very surprised that we’re here now.”

Not every county was granting the licenses on Thursday. Lexington County Probate Judge Daniel Eckstrom said his office would not grant them, but then relented after about two hours. “The State of South Carolina is still defending our State Constitution in the U.S. Supreme Court,” the Probate Court stated in a release. “I respect the rule of law, and until this matter is conclusively resolved – or unless otherwise directed – the Office of the Lexington County Probate Court continues to abide by our State Constitution and statutes.” However, Erickson later said the Supreme Court’s ruling did amount to a change in state law.

The Lee County Probate Court was also unclear about whether it would grant licenses. An employee who answered the phone Thursday said they “will be following the law. Whatever that says, that’s what we’re going to be doing.” When asked if that meant following the judge’s order, the employee hung up.

Former Eutawville chief claims “Stand Your Ground” in 2011 shooting

Richard Combs booking photo (Image: Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office)

Richard Combs booking photo (Image: Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office)

A state judge is now considering whether or not the former police chief of a small Orangeburg County town can argue state law protects him from prosecution after shooting another man outside town hall three years ago.

The Orangeburg Times & Democrat reports attorneys for former Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs argue he is immune from prosecution under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” defense. Combs shot and killed 54-year-old Bernard Bailey in the Eutawville Town Hall parking lot in May 2011. The police chief was serving a misdemeanor warrant against the retired security guard at the time.

Combs does not dispute that he shot Bailey, but he said he feared for his life because Bailey was trying to drive away while the officer was in the car door. The case stirred racial tensions in the small town that borders Lake Marion, as Combs is white and Bailey was black.

According to prosecutors, Bailey and Combs had gotten into an argument over a broken taillight traffic ticket Combs had written for Bailey’s daughter. Following the confrontation, Combs got a warrant on obstruction charges against Bailey. Prosecutors said Bailey went to the police office six weeks later and Combs tried to arrest him on the obstruction charge. A witness said Bailey angrily returned to his truck and tried to drive off, but Combs followed and reached to pull the keys from the ignition. According to the newspaper, Combs told the court he was “trapped” in the steering wheel and fired at least two shots as Bailey backed up the truck.

[Read more…]

SC Supreme Court allows counties to accept same-sex marriage licenses

Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon

Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday cleared a path for all South Carolina probate judges to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The court lifted a stay it had put in place last month while a federal judge considered a lawsuit filed against the state’s ban. U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs ruled Tuesday in Bradacs v. Haley that South Carolina must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. On Wednesday, the justices ended the stay.

“(P)robate judges were directed not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples pending a decision by the Federal District Court in Bradacs,” the order noted. “A decision by Judge Childs resolving the Bradacs case having been rendered, we hereby lift the injunction.”

The state Attorney General’s Office is still asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene as it appeals a separate federal judge’s ruling last week that South Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The judge in that case had ordered probate courts to issue the licenses starting on Thursday at noon.

Initially, most believed the first available date for marriage licenses would be then. But earlier Wednesday, a probate judge in Charleston County began granting the licenses to same-sex couples. An attorney representing Probate Judge Irvin Condon told the Charleston Post & Courier newspaper that the recent court rulings mean his client must begin granting the licenses as soon as possible.

But Condon stopped after a few hours, saying the South Carolina Court Administration had recommended he halt the process until Thursday or the Supreme Court ruled. Richland County was also allowing couples to apply for licenses early. All other counties had been waiting for Thursday’s deadline.

The lesbian couple who had filed the original lawsuit, Charleston County Councilwoman Colleen Condon (a distant cousin of the judge) and her fiancé Nichols Bleckley, were first in line when the Charleston County probate court opened Wednesday, according to their attorney Malissa Burnette.

“We said, ‘Well, if you can exercise your rights today, then go ahead and do that,’” Burnette told South Carolina Radio Network. “So they got in line and got their marriage license, too.”

While many couples will have to wait 24 hours after applying to get their license, Condon and Bleckley had already applied last month before the Attorney General’s Office intervened. 29 other couples applied with them at the time.