Haley, 8 other GOP governors, urge FCC to rethink prison phone jamming

Some of the thousands of contraband cell phones found in SC prisons each year (FILE)

Some of the thousands of contraband cell phones found in SC prisons each year (FILE)

Gov. Nikki Haley was among a group of governors across the county who signed a formal letter asking the FCC to reevaluate how it treats illegal cell phones in prisons.

Haley’s was the first signature of the letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler putting in writing similar complaints South Carolina prisons officials have had for nearly a decade: that the federal agency is not doing all it can to block contraband phone signals. South Carolina and other states have been requesting permission to jam the insides of corrections facilities since at least 2009.

“Contraband cellphones in the hands of prisoners dramatically increase these threats to witnesses, the public, the officers, their families, and even other prisoners,” the letter states.

But the FCC has argued a 1934 law limits only the federal government to have that jamming power. Telecommunications companies say they’re worried the same technology could interfere with emergency signals and neighbors’ cell phones.

Haley and her appointed Department of Corrections director Bryan Stirling testified to a sympathetic FCC commissioner last month about their concerns that contraband phones allow inmates to organize activities outside the prison walls. Also among those who testified was former corrections Captain Robert Johnson, who was shot six times at his home in a 2010 hit that the State Law Enforcement Division says was ordered by a Lee Correctional inmate using a contraband phone.

The governors of Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah — all Republicans — also signed onto the letter.

Man killed in 15-hour Chesterfield County standoff identified

Chesterfield County authorities have now identified a man who died from his injuries following a 15-hour armed standoff with law enforcement this weekend.

63-year-old Norman Campbell died at a nearby hospital from gunshot injuries, according to the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies said they responded to the home north of Cheraw about shots fired around 9 p.m. Friday night. Charlotte-based WSOC-TV reports Campbell barricaded himself inside the home and fired several times. The deputies called for backup and attempted to negotiate with Campbell. A State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) SWAT team also arrived on the scene that night.

Around noon Saturday, deputies said Campbell stepped outside his home with a gun and “challenged law enforcement with a firearm,” according to the sheriff’s office. He was shot shortly afterwards. Early reports do not say how many times or where he was hit.

An initial review did not find any Chesterfield County criminal history for Campbell.

SLED normally handles investigations of officer-involved shootings in South Carolina, but has requested Florence County Sheriff’s Office to take over since some of SLED’s own officers were involved. Saturday’s shots fired were the 18th officer-involved shootings statewide this year.

Gov.’s Office launches website aimed at domestic violence survivors

South Carolina’s state government has launched a new website aimed at providing information and resources to domestic violence survivors, loved ones, and offenders as well as to professional groups in the workplace.

“When you go to this website, not only does it ask you what town and zip code you live in, it also gives you all of the resources available to you within your community,” Governor Nikki Haley said. “But it goes a step further – it tells someone who is being abused what they can do to get help, it tells someone who thinks they know someone who’s being abused how to go about approaching the situation, and it tells someone who is an offender what they can do to get the help they need.”

The website features a 24-hour crisis hotline, a statewide directory of resources searchable by location, safety checklists and tips for victims and loved ones, and an exit button for victim safety. Citizens are also encouraged by the website to learn the phrase, “Share. Care. Be There,” as a three-step process for how loved ones should approach a friend or family member suspected to be a victim of domestic violence.

SafePlaceSC.sc.gov is a result of the work done by the S.C. Domestic Violence Task Force to provide South Carolinians with a single resource for domestic violence information.

“When we talk about ‘Share. Care. Be There,’ that really comes down to a couple of things,” Governor Haley said. “If you know of someone or suspect that someone is being abused, share your concerns with them. Care, but don’t judge. We can’t judge someone who is being abused because they already feel badly about themselves and our job is to lift them up, and get them help. And finally, it’s just to be there because this is a patient situation.”

The governor also laid out goals for county-level officials to try to meet by the end of the year in order to receive Safe Place County Certifications. Those goals include organizing a committee to review domestic violence deaths and adopting human resources policies for dealing with domestic violence situations.

Suspect dies two weeks after shot by deputy during Taylors confrontation

Greenville County authorities say a man has died from injuries he suffered after being shot by deputies two weeks ago during an armed confrontation outside a Taylors shopping center.

The State Law Enforcement Division is investigating the shooting of 52-year-old Reginald Dogan on May 2. A responding deputy said Dogan was “waving” a gun when confronted. The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office said the deputy requested backup. A department spokesman said Dogan began walking towards the backup deputy after the officer arrived on-scene. Sheriff Steve Loftis said that deputy repeatedly told Dogan to get on the ground, but the suspect did not comply and instead continued walking and pointed the gun at the second officer. The deputy then fired, hitting Dogan in the neck.

There was no dashcam or body camera footage of the incident, according to a SLED spokesman. Thom Berry said the agency will not have any further comment while it investigates the shooting.

The officers returned to duty after an internal investigation. Sheriff Steve Loftis said after reviewing the report he is confident both deputies followed procedure and only fired in self-defense.

Dogan’s daughter released a message on Facebook through the organization Fighting Injustice Together. “Due to the substantial injuries to my father’s neck, he was not able to tell us what happen to him the day he was shot,” Marva Dogan said in the statement. “But when I was finally able to sit by his bedside, and to look in his eyes; I promised him that I would find the truth; therefore, we have asked Fighting Injustice Together to help us conduct an independent investigation, and they have agreed”.

State Supreme Court rules governor’s SCDOT pick unlawful

Hall acknowledges the Senate after they approved her nomination in January (Photo: Rob Thompson/SCDOT)

Hall acknowledges the Senate after they approved her nomination in January (Photo: Rob Thompson/SCDOT)

South Carolina’s highway commission unanimously re-appointed Christy Hall as head of the state Department of Transportation on Wednesday, a few hours after the state Supreme Court ruled her appointment by the governor last year was unlawful.

The justices ruled in a 4-1 decision Wednesday that Gov. Nikki Haley lacked the authority to appoint Hall to the position when a 2007 law that gave the governor that power expired last summer. Legislators had included language in the budget to extend that authority for another year while they tried to work out a final road funding bill. However, the court ruled that was “log rolling,” and violates the state constitution’s “one-subject” requirement that the budget cannot be used to change other non-budget laws.

“It is well settled that the purpose of the appropriations act is the raising and spending of revenue,” the court opinion by Chief Justice Costa Pleicones stated. [Read more…]

Justice Department launches review of North Charleston Police Department (AUDIO)

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said combining policing expertise with citizen input "is critical in the 21st Century." (File)

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said combining policing expertise with citizen input “is critical in the 21st Century.” (File)

The federal government has launched a review of the North Charleston Police Department one year after an officer shot and killed an unarmed man during a traffic stop.

The U.S. Department of Justice held a press conference Tuesday at North Charleston City Hall to announce its decision.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey requested the review in April in response to the shooting of Walter Scott by then-North Charleston police officer Michael Slager. Slager has since been charged with murder and several civil rights charges.

The Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Chief Noble Wray said the entire review process will take a little over two years to conduct. The review will include a one-year evaluation and a six-month and 12-month interim assessment of progress.

“There are a series of three reports in total that will be released: the assessment report, the progress report on the findings and recommendations and then a final report,” said Chief Wray. “All made public, all open for scrutiny to the public so that it can watch this process and ensure that accountability is taking place at the local level.”

According to Wray, the COPS Office plans to enlist subject matter experts “that are among the best and brightest in the field of policing today.” The COPS Office will also bring in a technical assistance provider, who will coordinate the review by conducting interviews, compiling information and preparing recommendations for change. Interviews will be conducted with police officers, union officials, command staff, interested citizens and community leaders and advocates.

The city of North Charleston will not be asked to contribute any of its own funds to the assessment.

AUDIO: Mayor Summey says North Charleston “privileged” to have Chief Wray leading the review

Judge eases weekly ethics penalty payments for former Charleston senator

Former State Sen. Robert Ford following his guilty plea in January 2015 (File)

Former State Sen. Robert Ford following his guilty plea in January 2015 (File)

A state circuit judge on Monday agreed to reduce the weekly restitution a former Charleston senator must pay for an ethics-related conviction last year.

An attorney for former State Sen. Robert Ford said the one-time Democratic senator had not been able to afford his current $1,735 per month repayment schedule. A different judge sentenced Ford in May 2015 to five years probation, community service and $69,000 restitution.

The state Department of Probation, Pardon and Parole Services said Ford is nearly $9,000 in arrears of his repayment schedule one year later.

The Charleston Post & Courier reports Circuit Judge Brian Gibbons on Monday agreed to a negotiated reduction of $500 per month. Ford would pay that amount for the next six months before the payments increase to $550 per month.

Ford resigned from the state Senate in 2013 amid accusations he had misused campaign money to buy gym memberships, car payments, and adult entertainment. The senator insisted the items had been gifts for staff. Two years later, he agreed to plead guilty to two counts of False Reporting, one for Misconduct, and another for Forgery.

State prisons officials say nearly 200 inmates disciplined for social media use past two years

A new report says 66 inmates with South Carolina’s prisons agency have been disciplined this year for being on social media sites. Despite bans on cell phones inside prisons and a lack of access to computers, corrections officials say that does not stop inmates from accessing the internet.

According the Greenville News, the state Department of Corrections said the numbers will most likely pass last year’s 131 inmates disciplined, but are on pace to be down from the peak of 218 in 2014.

The agency has long struggled against the relative ease of accessibility inside state facilities, with a spokeswoman telling the paper there are concerns some inmates use their accounts to coordinate criminal activity and put out orders on social media. The primary culprits are smart phones that are being smuggled into prisons.

Issues with cell phones has been a sore point between South Carolina and the federal government. The Corrections Department has been seeking FCC permission to jam its prison cell signals since 2010. However, the federal agency cites a 1934 law which stated it can only give such powers to federal agencies, not state ones. Three years ago, the agency’s commissioners pledged to move forward on the issue after 30 states sought approval. But that effort never materialized.

South Carolina’s Department of Corrections has fought for the ability to block cell signals after one of its officers Captain Robert Johnson was shot six times in a 2010 hit that the State Law Enforcement Division says was ordered by a Lee Correctional inmate using a contraband phone.

It’s not just a problem for South Carolina. Correction facilities all over the nation are facing the same problem.