Prosecutors released a “mug shot” photo of suspended state House Speaker Bobby Harrell on Wednesday. The release came a day after state police first refused to make the image public, sparking complaints from a press attorney that the once-powerful politician was receiving preferential treatment.
The move by First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe came after the State Law Enforcement Division had told news outlets on Tuesday that it would not release the photograph taken during Harrell’s s processing after his court appearance this week.
A SLED spokesman told the Charleston Post and Courier newspaper that, since Harrell was not formally arrested or booked at a jail, the traditional processing photo is part of the agency’s case file and cannot be released because the case in in court.
South Carolina Press Association lawyer Jay Bender called SLED’s position “nonsense” and added that it appeared the agency was giving Harrell preferential treatment.
“I can’t imagine any legitimate reason to seal a mug shot,” Bender told South Carolina Radio Network. “There’s nothing in the law that I know of that would allow the sealing of a mug shot.”
The photograph was taken after Harrell was given an $18,000 personal recognizance bond. He faces nine counts related to misusing campaign funds and lying to state ethics officials in an attempt to cover it up. The Speaker has repeatedly insisted he did not intentionally violate the law.
Harrell told the Post & Courier that he supported the photo being released to the public.
While Harrell’s case is somewhat unique in state history, it is not unprecedented for law enforcement agencies to release processing photos when there is no arrest. Texas Governor Rick Perry smiled as he was booked following an indictment in August.
State open records law does allow law enforcement agencies to keep secret information about ongoing investigations if that information would compromise the case or endanger a person’s life. But those criteria do not appear to apply to the photo of Harrell..