Two Black SC Teens Jailed For Almost A Year After Rape They Didn’t Commit, Lawsuit Says
They were incarcerated for months — even after DNA evidence proved their innocence, according to the lawsuit.
Five years ago, two black Richland County, South Carolina teenagers were wrongfully charged with rape, jailed and remained incarcerated for months — even after DNA evidence proved their innocence, according to multiple lawsuits.
The two then-teenagers Kewon English and Earl Powell are suing the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott in separate lawsuits in both county and federal court.
As the civil case moves closer to a possible jury trial, recently filed court documents allege disturbing details of the investigation that led to the two teens’ arrests.
In August 2015, English and Powell were arrested in the rape of a Columbia, South Carolina woman after being individually interrogated for hours without a lawyer or a parent present, according to recently filed court records.
They both said they were coerced into signing confession documents, according to affidavits.
Neither of the interrogations were recorded or filmed — in an investigation criminal justice expert Melvin Tucker called “shoddy, incomplete, and biased.”
English and Powell were charged on August 5, 2015 with first-degree criminal sexual assault and first-degree burglary. At the age of 16, Kewon English was jailed for 10 months from August 2015 to June 2016, then again briefly in December 2016 for violating bond provisions.
At the age of 18, Earl Powell was jailed for 13 months from August 2015 until September 2016.
Both men remained behind bars even after DNA results linked the crime to another person – Marquise Randolph – who was eventually charged in April of 2016.
Just before 6:00 a.m. EDT on August 5, 2015, a Richland County, South Carolina woman called 911 and said her neighbor had just showed up at her home naked, bleeding and shaken up, according to court records. The neighbor said the woman was pistol-whipped in the head and raped in her home by two men.
The woman said she woke up on her couch around midnight and found two men in her apartment, but it was too dark to see them clearly, according to court documents.
She said they stole two money orders from her, too.
After the victim was interviewed at the hospital that day, lead investigator Joe Clarke wrote the names “Kewon” and “Shakim” in his notes — indicating that those were the names of the attackers, according to court records.
The investigation moved quickly. Clarke and other detectives honed in on finding “Kewon” and not “Shakim.”
According to Clarke’s deposition, investigators found out that day that a 16-year-old named Kewon English was with the victim’s son the night before. He also lived in the neighborhood where the rape occurred.
“We certainly felt confident that Kewon was somebody we needed to go talk to,” Clarke said in his deposition.
Police also found out that an 18-year-old named Earl Powell was with Kewon English and the victim’s son that night.
Later on August 5, 2015, 16-year-old Kewon English had just returned home from the grocery store when Richland County deputies arrived at the door, according to English’s affidavit. One of those deputies was Joe Clarke.
“The first thing they said to me was that I needed to hand over the money orders or they were taking me to jail,” English’s affidavit, recently filed by the defense in opposition to the sheriff department’s motion for summary judgement, said.
English said he didn’t know what they were talking about, but the officers pressed on, asking him about a rape that took place the night before, according to the affidavit.
After 10-15 minutes of questioning, the officer told English he was going to the police station.
“I asked if my mom could come with me, and they said no, because I was under arrest,” English’s affidavit said.
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(Via: Getty Images)
At this point, police had no physical evidence tying English to the crime.
English was then brought to the sheriff’s office in Columbia, South Carolina and handcuffed to a bench, according to the affidavit.
“I asked to call my mom on the phone and they said no,” English’s affidavit said. “I asked for an attorney, and asked the officers how I would go about getting an attorney, and they ignored me.”
Clarke and another officer approached English and shackled his feet together, according to the affidavit.
“They told me to sit down, and when I went to sit down, the white officer pulled the chair back, causing me to fall to the ground,” English’s affidavit said. “The black officer came over to me and helped me up.”
Both officers questioned English about the rape, according to the affidavit. He told the cops he didn’t know anything, and again asked for his mother and an attorney.
“They told me I could have an attorney after I gave them the information they wanted,” English’s affidavit said.
He was then questioned for two more hours without a break or a drink of water, the affidavit said. He repeatedly denied that he had any involvement with the crime and continued to ask for his mother and an attorney.
“When I asked to go home numerous times during the questioning, the officers told me I could go home if I gave them the information they wanted and signed a statement,” English wrote.
After the other officer, who wasn’t named in court documents, left, Clarke then removed English’s handcuffs and walked him into another conference room, the affidavit said.
“(Clarke) then took out a piece of paper and told me to start telling him what happened and he would write it down,” English’s affidavit said. “I began to tell him what I had told him before — that I did not do anything wrong and that I did not know anything.”
English said that Clarke wrote down the first few words of what English was telling him, then paused.
“…then when he realized I wasn’t saying what he wanted me to say, the white officer (Clarke) became angry, balled up the piece of paper and threw it in the trashcan,” English said. “He indicated that he would write out the statement and that if I wanted to go home, I would have to sign it.”
Clarke then slid a piece of paper in front of him and said he was never going home unless he signed the statement, the affidavit said.
“I signed the statement without reading it, because I just wanted to go home,” English’s affidavit said.
English was then booked and charged with first degree criminal sexual assault and first degree burglary. He said he wasn’t aware of what the statement said until he got a copy of it in the criminal case. He also agreed to have his DNA taken.
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(Via: Getty Images)
“At no point did I tell anyone that I committed the crimes I was charged with and at no point did I say the things that (Clarke) included in that written statement,” English’s affidavit said. “(Clarke) intentionally included false information in the written statement and coerced me into signing it and the officer further used that false information to obtain arrest warrants and indictments.”
The statement English signed said that Earl Powell was with him on the night of the rape, according to court documents.
Powell’s arrest story was similar.
After returning home from work that day with his grandfather, police arrived at Powell’s door and told him he was going to the station around 11:00 p.m. EDT. on August 5, 2015.
Powell was mentally and physically exhausted at this time after a long hard day of hard labor, the affidavit said.
The interrogation went on for hours and Powell repeatedly denied having any involvement in the alleged crime and said he knew nothing about what happened.
He wasn’t given anything to drink during the several hours of questioning and exhaustion started to wear on him.
“The officers know that my grandmother was very important to me, that she was my world, so they told me repeatedly during the interview that if I didn’t tell them what they wanted me to tell them, I would never see my grandmother again and that I would be put away for life,” Powell said in the affidavit.
He begged to go home, according to the affidavit.
“He reiterated that if I didn’t sign the statement, I couldn’t go home,” Powell wrote. “I was so mentally and physically exhausted at this point that I signed the document without reading it.”
He was then booked and charged.
A ‘shoddy investigation’
Joe Clarke, the lead investigator in the case, told a very different story of how the interrogations went down.
In his deposition, Clarke said that both English and Powell were forthcoming with information and corroborated each other’s stories during their interviews. He said Powell was “almost bragging” about the rape and snickering in the interview.
When the attorney asked why he never noted that in records, he said it wasn’t necessary.
“The beauty of audio and video these days is it fixes a lot of those problems,” Clarke said in deposition.
But Clarke didn’t record the interrogations — in one of many moves in this case that police expert Melvin Tucker said “violated investigation standards accepted in the law enforcement profession in 2015.”
Tucker, a former FBI agent, police chief, and criminal justice professor, was hired by the plaintiffs to review the case.
“The investigation could best be described as shoddy, incomplete, and biased,” Tucker wrote in his analysis of the case. “Clarke’s reckless disregard of recognized criminal investigation standards was directly and causally connected to the improper arrest and incarceration of Kewon English and Earl Powell for crimes they did not commit.”
Melvin said officers are warned in police training to avoid false confessions and typically study classic examples of interrogations gone wrong such as the Central Park Five case, which has several similarities to this one.
“In 2015, it was a nationally recognized standard that police officers electronically record (audio and visual) the interviews and confessions of juveniles in major cases because of the emotional and developmental differences between adults and juveniles and to protect themselves from any charges of coercion or intimidation,” Melvin said.
However, Richland County Sheriff’s Department’s policy did not require interviews to be recorded at the time. That policy changed in 2018.
With no physical evidence to pin on them, the case against Powell and English relied entirely on their confessions. And with no audio or video recording of the interviews, it was their word against Clarke’s.
So who is Joseph Clarke?
Joseph Clarke has been employed with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department for nearly 17 years.
He was a senior investigator with the Special Victims Unit (SVU) at the time of this incident and was eventually promoted to Sergeant Supervisor of the SVU. Clarke still works at the Richland County Sheriff’s Department today as a sergeant.
According to the lawsuit, Clarke has a checkered past in his 17 years with the sheriff’s department.
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(Via: Richland County Sheriff’s Department)
According to Clarke’s internal affairs file, the veteran deputy has a “history of alleged and sustained misconduct,” the memorandum by English and Powell’s attorney states. These incidents include:
- April 2004: When Clarke responded to a report of a vehicle struck by bricks dropped from an overpass, he told the victims “he didn’t want to get his “ass sued” and therefore didn’t feel it was appropriate to go after the suspects. An internal affairs investigation found that Clarke’s investigation was insufficient and he failed to take proper action.
- July 2004: Clarke had to go to counseling after he “inappropriately tried to settle a dispute between a dog groomer and dog owner by telling the owner that if she didn’t pay what she owed, he was taking her to jail.”
- October 2006: Clarke responded to a noise complaint and even though he was told to allow the group of people to keep moving and not make any arrests, he ended up spraying the crowd with pepper spray, yelling “hey smart ass” to one of the partiers, and initiating a conflict with that man, who he arrested. In an internal affairs investigation, other responding officers said there was not a big enough threat to warrant the pepper spray. Clarke was placed on 30 days probation for improper use of force and false arrest.
- February 2008: Clarke was investigated after he went to a 16-year-old’s home “without reasonable suspicion, to ask if he knew anything about recent burglaries in the neighborhood.”
- December 2008: Clarke was investigated after he showed up at a woman’s home while off duty, without a warrant, and forced the woman to hand over her dog.
- February 2017: Clarke was investigated after he made fun of an animal cruelty consultant’s credentials while working on an animal abuse case. After the woman filed a complaint, Clarke sent her a Facebook message that said “really… a formal complaint with IA?”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that Clarke’s “lengthy” internal affairs file proves that the sheriff’s department should have been aware of his “propensity to commit harm for over a decade prior to the incidents at issue in this case.”
Immediately after English and Powell acquired defense attorneys, they began requesting for DNA results.
Without DNA test results, prosecutors in the cases added on two additional charges of kidnapping and armed robbery in November 2015.
In April 2016 DNA test results came back in the case, but they matched another person named Marquise Randolph. Randolph was also charged in the case, at the same time English and Powell were still sitting behind bars in the same crime.
But from the beginning, police and the victim maintained the narrative that there were only two attackers in this case. English’s criminal defense attorney Robert Bank said he was not made aware of the DNA results when they were complete.
“This would have been crucial information for me to know at the time because the prosecution’s case was based entirely on Mr. English and Mr. Powell allegedly being the only two perpetrators of the crime and the involvement of Mr. Randolph was completely inconsistent with the rest of the prosecution’s case against Mr. English and Mr. Powell,” Bank’s affidavit said.
Even more telling, detectives compared both English and Powell’s DNA with the DNA found at the scene. Neither of them left fingerprints, blood, semen, fibers, hair, or any DNA on scene, according to court records.
On May 4, 2015, Bank received the full DNA report, according to his affidavit.
On May 16, 2015, Bank asked the assistant solicitor to dismiss the charges after she indicated that “the case has been keeping (her) up at night,” Bank’s affidavit said.
On June 14, English spent his 17th birthday behind bars and was moved between the juvenile section and the adult section of the detention center.
English was detained at the Richland County Detention Center from August 5, 2015 until June 28, 2016, when he was released and placed on home detention with an ankle monitor. He was picked up by a bond company for violating bond in December 20, 2016. English was released the next day and told his charges had been dismissed.
Powell was detained at the Richland County Detention Center from August 5, 2015 until he posted bond in September 2016. His charges were also dropped in December.
Assistant Solicitor Meghan Walker for the Fifth Solicitor’s Office was the lead prosecutor assigned to the case.
There is still an open collections record on English’s credit report for the ankle monitor, according to court documents.
Neither English or Powell have other charges on their record, according to the Richland County Public Index.
Marquise Randolph, the man who was charged in the rape after his DNA was discovered, has faced a slew of charges since this crime, including murder.
What they’re suing for
Powell and English are suing Sheriff Lott and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) for wrongful arrest / false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, negligence and gross negligence in the hiring supervision and detention of employees.
According to his deposition, Clarke maintains that he did no wrong in the case. Asked if he was sorry that English and Powell were charged and jailed for the crime, Clarke said he wasn’t sorry.
“That’s what I do. If I was a cookie maker, I’d make cookies, I put bad guys in jail,” he responded. “They broke the law multiple times.”
Columbia attorney Robert David Garfield is representing the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in the case.
In a request for summary judgement, attorneys for RCSD argued that the victim was able “to articulate her belief as to Kewon English’s identity.” RCSD argues that there was enough probable cause in the case for a grand jury indictment.
Anderson, South Carolina attorneys Kyle J. White and Andrew Delaney are representing both Powell and English in the case. In a motion filed in opposition of Richland County Sheriff’s Department’s request for summary judgement in June, the attorneys have requested a jury trial in the case.
White said he looks forward to their day in court.
“We believe that holding the government accountable for misconduct and seeking compensation for victims of that misconduct is one of the most important functions of our civil justice system,” White told FITSNews.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an award-winning journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].
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