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Video Poker Raid: Was Search Lawful?



Last week the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) raided an abandoned warehouse in Swansea, S.C. – seizing more than 750 video poker machines. The raid – believed to be part of an ongoing investigation into the “Lexington Ring” video poker cabal – has drawn statewide attention, however few are discussing the circumstances which led to it being carried out.

What prompted the raid? And was it carried out legally?

Here’s an excerpt from a report in The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper which raised several major red flags for us …

… (the) machines were discovered early Monday morning by Swansea police and Lexington County firefighters after they responded to a report of a possible fire at the warehouse, said Thom Berry, a spokesman for the State Law Enforcement Division.

The police and firefighters never saw smoke or flames, but they did notice water running from the building, Berry said. After calling the town water department, they learned water service had been disconnected.

The police found an unlocked side door and went inside, Berry said. Once the Swansea authorities saw the rows of poker machines, they called SLED.

Wait … “the police found an unlocked side door and went inside?”

Hmmmm …

We ran this excerpt by several of our law enforcement friends, seeking clarification on the law as well as their assessment of this particular situation. All agreed the raid would likely hold up in court – but questioned the manner in which it was conducted. They said police officers have a public safety obligation to act if they believe a crime has occurred – or is possibly taking place – but the Swansea warehouse situation

“It’s not a ‘search’ like most think it is,” one law enforcement officer told us, referring to such actions as “community care taking.”

“If we see an unlocked or open door, we’ll check to make sure that a crime is not taking place or has occurred,” the officer said. “We’ve worked burglaries where we’ve found an unlocked or open door at a business.”

Of course the officer acknowledged that in this case, the justification for entering the warehouse was “so thin as to be transparent.”

“It’s squirrelly,” the officer said. “It doesn’t smell right.”

We agree.

Who called this “possible fire” report in? Why wasn’t the fire department allowed to handle it? Why did the police have to go inside the building? These officers did not “see an unlocked door,” it appears as though they went looking until they found one – even after it was obvious there was no fire.

“Once the report of a possible fire on the premises had been determined to be false, that should have been the end of that,” another law enforcement officer told us. “This whole thing looks like a set up.”

Indeed …

This website supports legalizing all forms of gambling – and opposes South Carolina’s government-run gambling monopoly. However we cannot have cops and elected officials running gambling rings on the one hand while upholding a gambling ban on the other. We have also been aggressive in pressuring SLED and the U.S. Attorney’s office to issue indictments in the “Lexington Ring” saga – and have challenged SLED on its previous selective enforcement of the state’s gambling laws.

We also criticized SLED (and Gov. Nikki Haley) for receiving information about the “Lexington Ring” way back in March of 2012 – and doing nothing about it for months.

But in stepping up its game and bringing the “Ring” to account for its actions, police officers cannot violate our rights by manipulating the rules governing lawful searches.