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SC Sheriffs Rally Against Officer-Involved Shooting Bill

Debate over shooting investigations heats up …

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South Carolina’s sheriffs have voiced unanimous opposition to legislation that would task the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) with the statutory responsibility to investigate all officer-involved shootings in the Palmetto State.

The bill – S. 38 – is sponsored by Gerald Malloy, one of the most influential members of the S.C. Senate.  It was filed in the aftermath of a shooting spree in suburban Florence, S.C. last fall that left two law enforcement officers dead and several others wounded.

Our readers will recall that Florence County, S.C. sheriff Kenney Boone refused to allow SLED to investigate the shootings owing to a personal grudge against the agency.  Instead, he called in Richland County, S.C. sheriff Leon Lott to probe the matter.  Lott is the only other sheriff in the state who refuses to permit SLED to investigate shootings involving his deputies.

Lott’s agency quickly required all sorts of assistance, though, while a widow of one of the slain officers testified that she had been kept in the dark by local authorities about what happened to her late husband.

According to Jarrod Bruder, executive director of the S.C. Sheriffs Association, his group’s opposition to Malloy’s proposed bill is based on the principle of home rule – or the right of local governments to determine what is best for their citizens.

News of the sheriffs’ decision to wade into this debate was first reported earlier this week by Tonya Brown of WPDE TV 15 (ABC – Florence/ Myrtle Beach).

“We are not advocating for the right to investigate our own officer involved shootings; nor are we seeking the ability to steer investigations in the direction that is most favorable for us or our deputies,” Bruder said in a statement issued on behalf of the sheriffs. “For us, retaining the authority to determine which law enforcement entity will investigate officer involved shootings is less about gaining autonomy or independence and is more about accountability for our citizens.”

Actually, Lott – whom we are told is the driving force behind this statement – does investigate his own agency’s officer-involved shootings, an arrangement we believe is totally inappropriate.

Nonetheless, the sheriffs believe “local knows best.”

“The citizens of our counties elected us to enforce the laws of this state,” the sheriffs’ statement continued.  “We fully understand that our citizens expect our actions to be fair, just, and above reproach.  If our actions ever fail to meet the standard our citizens set, then they can and will hold us accountable at the next election.  This approach provides our citizens with the quickest, most effective method of accountability.”

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Under Malloy’s proposed legislation, SLED would be granted “specific and exclusive jurisdiction and authority” over all officer-involved shootings in the Palmetto State, with the findings of its inquiries “forwarded to the solicitor’s office in the jurisdiction where the shooting, discharge, or unexpected death occurred.”

In other words, it would cement the current procedures in statute (of the 231 officer-involved shootings in South Carolina since 2014, all but eight of them were investigated by SLED).

This news outlet supports Malloy’s legislation.

“This news outlet has sparred with SLED in the past on other issues, but its agents have consistently distinguished themselves over the years in their investigations of officer-involved shootings – lending skill, professionalism and objectivity to sensitive, high-profile and complicated crime scenes,” we noted last month. “Seeing as SLED already provides competent, trustworthy and independent probes of officer-involved shootings in nearly all Palmetto State counties, we see no reason why the agency should not be entrusted with that responsibility in Florence and Richland counties.”

In 2017, the Palmetto State set a new record with 49 officer involved shootings.  Last year there were 43 such incidents.

In other words, this is an issue that isn’t going away anytime soon …

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