February 9, 2016

University of South Carolina professor part of team that studies ‘Ferguson Effect’

A new study released this week finds no evidence of a widespread surge in total, violent or property crime across large U.S. cities in the aftermath of the highly publicized police shooting of Ferguson, Missouri native Michael Brown. But the research does show the overall rate of robberies has increased, as has the murder rate in certain cities.

University of South Carolina criminology professor Scott Wolfe was part of the team that conducted the study. “What we found primarily was that there is no systematic U.S. wide increase or change at all in violent or property crimes,” Wolfe told South Carolina Radio Network.

“The important thing is we’re hoping to communicate to the public, researchers, practitioners, is here’s finally some empirical evidence concerning the so called ‘Ferguson Effect’ as it relates to crime statistics,” Wolfe said.

The study tests the hypothesis that the shooting of Brown, a young black man, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri and a string of similar incidents across the country have led to increases in crime across the U.S., a phenomenon known as the “Ferguson Effect.” The idea behind the theory is that police are more hesitant to stop potential criminals out of fear they will be filmed and the footage taken out of context. Some law enforcement, criminal justice experts, commentators and policymakers have raised concern that rampant social media sharing of messages critical of law enforcement amplified the effect of the Ferguson shooting.

Researchers analyzed monthly crime data from 81 large U.S. cities the year before and year after the events in Ferguson on Aug. 9, 2014.

Specifically, some have argued that social media sharing caused police not to intervene in certain criminal settings for fear of criticism or lawsuits and also led to a widespread mistrust of police. However, the finding that crime

Wolfe conducted the study with David Pyrooz, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder; Scott Decker, foundation professor of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University; and John Shjarback of the department of criminal justice at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Senate panel to discuss allowing prison inmates to attend funerals

State Sens. Margie Bright Matthews, D-Colleton, and Karl Allen, D-Greenville, listen to state Corrections Director Bryan Stirling last week

State Sens. Margie Bright Matthews, D-Colleton, and Karl Allen, D-Greenville, listen to state Dept. of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling last week

A state Senate panel plans to discuss legislation Thursday morning that would allow South Carolina prison inmates to attend funerals of loved ones while under guard, but the idea is opposed by corrections officials.

South Carolina’s prisons director Bryan Stirling said in a hearing last week he sympathizes with the idea of allowing nonviolent inmates to attend the funerals. But he told the Senate Corrections panel his agency does not have the manpower to spare for extended trips — particularly trips out of state.

“We just do not have the resources to carry this out,” Stirling said. “We have concerns with having officers transport across the state and possibly across the country. If we had enough officers and enough staff and we felt like we could do this safely, we would be all for it.”

The proposal sponsored by State Sen. Karl Allen, D-Greenville, would require the South Carolina Department of Corrections give the opportunity for inmates not considered a “security risk” to attend their family member’s funeral or hospital deathbed. The trips would be paid for by the family. Funerals for certain foster parents, stepchildren and other non-relatives would also be allowed. [Read more…]

Lawmakers promote Few to be newest SC Supreme Court justice

Judge John C. Few talks to legislators shortly after his election Wednesday

Judge John C. Few talks to legislators shortly after his election Wednesday

State lawmakers have chosen the newest justice on South Carolina’s Supreme Court.

Judge John Few is the first new justice tapped to the state’s highest court since 2009. Few has led the South Carolina Court of Appeals as chief judge for the past six years. He won a close vote Wednesday to take an open seat in the Supreme, defeating fellow appeals court judge H. Bruce Williams 92-73. Supreme Court judges in South Carolina are elected by a joint session of the state legislature.

“There’s just excitement, relief, and understanding the responsibility that comes with winning that seat,” Few told reporters shortly after the vote. “So, (I’m) excited and yet serious about it.”

He will replace former Chief Justice Jean Toal, who stepped down in December after reaching the mandatory retirement age last year. Last year, legislators picked Associate Justice Costa Pleicones to take over as chief justice for the Supreme Court. He reaches the mandatory retirement age later this year, so lawmakers will have to find another replacement by June.

Few had unsuccessfully run for a seat on the Supreme Court on three previous occasions. Few was able to secure a majority of legislators after chief judge of the Administrative Law Court Ralph King Anderson dropped out of the race less than 24 hours before Wednesday’s vote.


Fairfax man sentenced to 3 years for staging Amtrak train crash

A Fairfax man was sentenced to nearly three years in prison this week after prosecutors said he admitted leaving a car at a railroad crossing in 2013 so he could collect insurance benefits after an Amtrak train crashed into it.

The US Attorney’s Office said 34-year-old James Love was sentenced in federal court Wednesday to 46 months imprisonment. Love had pleaded guilty in June to charges of: conspiracy to commit wire fraud, cause a train wreck/interfere with a train operator and to being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. US District Judge J. Michelle Childs also sentenced Love to three years of federally-supervised release, and ordered Love to pay Amtrak nearly $47,000 in restitution.

Prosecutors said Love and Deon Roberts parked a car at an Allendale railroad crossing in September 2013, as an oncoming Amtrak passenger train approached. Investigators said the two men got out of the car prior to the collision, but returned to the car afterwards and feigned injury. Love’s guilty plea states he did so for the purpose of submitting bogus claims for personal injuries and other losses.  Roberts is still awaiting sentencing after pleading  guilty in November.

The police chief in the nearby town of Varnville later told reporters the damaged car had previously been reported stolen from his jurisdiction.

Love also pleaded guilty to the firearms charge, stemming from a separate incident. A Fairfax police officer reported seeing Love walking down the road in August 2013 with a shotgun in his hand. When the officer turned his car around, Love laid the firearm down and kept walking.  The officer approached and asked Love why he was walking down the street with a shotgun. The other man answered that someone at the club had been talking negatively toward him. Love was detained on a state weapon charge and the loaded shotgun was seized. Further investigation revealed that Love was prohibited from possessing firearms and ammunition based upon prior state convictions for distribution of cocaine, failure to stop for blue light, and possession of crack cocaine.

State police investigate as man killed by Dillon County deputy identified

Dillon County authorities have released the name of a man shot and killed during a confrontation with a sheriff’s deputy earlier this week.

The State Law Enforcement Division said Thursday its agents are investigating the Wednesday shooting at a home seven miles west of Latta. The Dillon County Coroner’s Office said 27-year-old John Wesley Smith died in the incident, which sheriff’s deputies say was a domestic disturbance.

Dillon County deputies said they initially responded to calls of a break-in at the home. However, they said the individuals involved knew each other. Deputies said Smith was brandishing a knife during their response. A spokesman told local media the officers tried to use pepper spray to subdue Smith, but he resisted.

One of the deputies fired during the struggle, fatally injuring Smith.

SLED said it does not know of any video showing the incident. The agency usually investigates officer-involved shootings in South Carolina.

It was the fifth law enforcement shooting in South Carolina so far this year. Last year, SLED said South Carolina’s 48 recorded officer-involved shootings was the highest number since the state agency began keeping track in 2000. None of last year’s shootings involved Dillon County deputies.