Two attorneys representing a survivor of the 2019 Beaufort County, South Carolina boat crash that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach filed court documents Wednesday alleging that law enforcement officers conspired to shift the focus of the investigation away from Paul Murdaugh prior to him being ultimately charged with three felonies in connection with the crash.
The petition was filed on behalf of Connor Cook, who broke his jaw when Murdaugh allegedly crashed a 17-foot center console fishing boat owned by his father, R. Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh, into a piling near the Archer’s Creek bridge in the early morning hours of February 24, 2019.
Cook filed the bombshell petition on July 7.
The shocking court documents were filed just four weeks after Paul Murdaugh, 22, was found murdered with his mother Maggie Murdaugh, 52, on their hunting property in Colleton County, South Carolina.
An investigation into their deaths is being conducted by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
The petition and accompanying documents are explosive — alleging that officers from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office possibly conspired to essentially frame Connor Cook as the driver of the boat.
The petition is a court action that would allow Cook’s lawyers to engage in the discovery process prior to potentially filing a lawsuit.
Specifically, it asks for the ability to depose the following law enforcement officers in connection with a potential lawsuit:
- Michael Brock, formerly with SCDNR, but now works at SLED in alcohol control unit
- Austin Pritcher, SCDNR
- John Leroy Keener, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office
- Robin Camlin, formerly with SCDNR
- Troy Andrew Krapf, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department
The petition stated that evidence from the 2019 boat crash scene “is now unable to be accounted for by law enforcement authorities.”
Cook’s attorneys, Joseph M. McCulloch and Kathy R. Schillaci, are asking the court permission to depose those five officers “about the failure to conduct an appropriate investigation,” before a lawsuit is possibly filed.
According to the petition, attorneys want to ask the officers about the failure to offer field sobriety tests on Paul Murdaugh at the scene of the crash — and question them about other “investigative irregularities” that coincidentally “resulted in loss of evidence” that would have exonerated Cook and implicated Paul Murdaugh.
Further, the court documents allege the officers “may have information of a collusion and/or a civil conspiracy to shift the blame for the boat accident away from Paul Murdaugh by wrongfully shifting the focus to Connor Cook.”
According to the petition, the five officers may know of a conspiracy “to cloud the investigatory issues and disseminate false information in the community with the intention of misleading law enforcement and prosecution charging parties, and the public, into wrongly and falsely believing Connor Cook should be arrested and charged as the boat operator.”
Officials at SCDNR, the lead investigating agency in the crash, have repeatedly said that confusion in determining who was driving delayed the investigation from the get-go.
As a result, it took prosecutors almost two months to charge Paul Murdaugh with three felony boating under the influence (BUI) charges in connection with the fatal crash.
Last year, FITSNews obtained documents showing that two of the responding deputies on the night of the crash had ties to the Murdaugh family’s law firm.
The recent court documents allege that the powerful Murdaugh family — whose members served as the solicitor (an elected position like a district attorney) over a five-county region for nearly 90 years — had other ties to the investigation that have not been reported before.
However, the petition does not name the Murdaughs as conspirators in the alleged cover-up.
The petition filed Wednesday includes depositions from a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Mallory Beach’s family. Beach’s mother, Renee Beach, is seeking damages from Parker’s gas station — where the underage Paul Murdaugh allegedly purchased alcohol prior to the crash. It also names Murdaugh’s brother and father – who allegedly facilitated Murdaugh’s underage drinking — as co-defendants.
Attorney Mark Tinsley is representing Beach in her lawsuit, which is still ongoing.
In the depositions, attorneys question and nearly accuse three officers — Brock, Pritcher, and Keener — of falsifying their reports to favor Paul Murdaugh, which created confusion about who was driving the boat in the initial investigation.
According to recordings from the scene played during deposition, Mallory Beach’s boyfriend Anthony Cook — Connor’s cousin — sensed the Murdaugh family influence would play a role in the investigation.
“That motherf*cker needs to rot in f*cking prison,” he yelled about Paul Murdaugh at the scene of the crash, according to recordings. “He ain’t going to get in no f*cking trouble…..My f*cking girlfriend is gone.”
In the explosive depositions, attorneys’ questions suggest that several pieces of evidence appear to be missing, including:
- Paul’s phone, which was picked up by another officer on scene, according to audio.
- Paul’s pants, which attorneys assumed contained his wallet with the fake ID he allegedly used earlier that day.
- DNA swabs from the boat and photographs of DNA processing (which could prove where Connor was positioned in the boat at the time of the crash).
- An audio recording of Anthony Cook telling Michael Brock that Paul Murdaugh killed Mallory Beach.
The three officers in question all testified to knowing of the Murdaugh family before the boat crash and each said they had some ties to the powerful family.
Michael Brock, who worked at SCDNR at the time of the crash as an investigator and now works at SLED as an alcohol control agent, admitted in his deposition that he knew the Murdaugh family.
Brock was asked multiple times about his connection to the Murdaugh family. According to his deposition:
- Brock said he wouldn’t call the Murdaughs “friends,” because “(we) don’t go on vacations together or out to dinners or anything like that.”
- Later, he said that John Marvin Murdaugh (Paul’s uncle) “probably” had his cell phone number.
- Then he admitted to going to the Murdaugh’s river home “once or twice, three times.”
- Brock’s wife Sarah Brock used to work at the Murdaugh law firm.
In Brock’s deposition, he told attorneys that John Marvin Murdaugh is friends with Michael Paul Thomas, a SCDNR officer.
- Beach’s attorney alleges that John Marvin Murdaugh was in “frequent or very constant communication” with Michael Paul Thomas on Feb. 24, 2019.
- John Marvin Murdaugh brought the trailer to the crime scene to help get the boat out of the water, according to Brock.
Brock, who was responsible for collecting evidence in the case, said he “didn’t recall” ever being removed from the case due to a potential conflict of interest, but said that “it would make sense.”
It’s unclear how long Brock worked on the case. He started working for SLED in 2020.
Austin Pritcher, the first SCDNR officer at the scene of the boat crash around 3:30 a.m., was also asked multiple times about his potential ties to the Murdaugh family. According to his deposition:
- At first, Pritcher said he does not know the Murdaugh family.
- Then, when asked if he ever hunted with the Murdaughs, Pritcher said he had been to their golf tournament once.
- Pritcher said that his father Donnie Pritcher (a captain at SCDNR who was also involved in the case) and was Michael Paul Thomas (Murdaugh family friend mentioned above) also attended the tournament.
- Pritcher said he was instructed to meet John Marvin Murdaugh at the crash scene that morning to get the trailer for the boat just hours after the crash.
- Pritcher said he hadn’t met John Marvin Murdaugh before the incident. He said that Michael Paul Thomas likely gave him his number.
As FITSNews previously reported, two Beaufort County deputies on scene that night had direct ties to the Murdaugh family.
Staff sergeant Jason Malphrus — who supervised the agency’s response on the evening of the crash — was being represented by Alex Murdaugh at the time of the boat crash. He is not mentioned in the depositions.
Corporal Jack Keener, a Beaufort County sheriff’s office deputy, also had connections to the Murdaughs’ law firm. In 2015, the firm, PMPED, helped Keener and his family win a $2.5 million settlement, according to court documents.
In deposition, Keener claimed he didn’t know the Murdaughs.
- He said he never met Paul or his family but “knew of the name”
- He said he had nothing to do with his family’s lawsuit
- “I only know that their family was lawyers and whatnot from Hampton, that’s all I know.”
Why did police focus on both Paul and Connor?
In multiple depositions, attorneys played audio from the scene that indicated Anthony Cook was very clear about who was driving the boat.
Yet, reports from Brock, Keener, and Pritcher were anything but clear.
For example, Anthony Cook told Brock that he knew Paul was driving at the boat and that “Paul Murdaugh killed (his) girlfriend,” according to a Parris Island military police officer’s sworn affidavit.
But Brock didn’t write that in his report.
Instead, Brock wrote that Anthony “flipped out and was yelling at Paul” and didn’t write why he was angry at Paul Murdaugh in the aftermath of Mallory Beach’s disappearance.
Tinsley said that Brock indicated in his report he had a tape of Anthony Cook’s interview on scene, but Brock testified that he no longer had the recording.
Pritcher, the first DNR officer on scene, wrote in his report that Anthony Cook said he didn’t know who was driving the boat.
However, after attorneys played audio from the scene in deposition, Pritcher admitted that Anthony told him Paul Murdaugh was driving the boat. Pritcher acted confused when he was confronted about his statement that contradicted audio from the scene.
Like Brock, Keener also wrote in his report that it was “unclear” who was driving the boat.
However, he admitted in his deposition that this assessment was his personal opinion and that no one else said anything to him that would indicate Connor Cook may have been driving the boat.
What Happened With The Field Sobriety Test?
Paul Murdaugh was not administered a field sobriety test at the scene — a move that was highly criticized by the public.
So what happened with Paul Murdaugh’s field sobriety test?
According to depositions:
- Robin Camlin, Brock’s supervisor at SCDNR, testified that she told Brock that both Connor Cook and Paul Murdaugh should be given a field sobriety test.
- Brock wrote in his report that he told Pritcher to give field sobriety tests to both Cook and Paul Murdaugh.
- Pritcher testified that Brock only told him to give Connor Cook a field sobriety test.
- When asked if Brock ever asked him to do a test on Paul Murdaugh, Pritcher said he didn’t remember, but said if Brock would have asked him to give Paul the test, he would have done it.
- Brock told Camlin that night that both individuals were offered to take the test.
Pritcher said that he offered Connor Cook a field sobriety test because he was starting to “zero in” on him as the main suspect. Connor Cook refused to take the test and Pritcher “filled the sheet out for refusal.”
Paul Murdaugh was never offered a field sobriety test — so no such document exists for him. Pritcher said the purpose of offering a field sobriety test is to gather evidence.
Pritcher said he was trying to get a statement from Paul Murdaugh when Paul’s father Alex Murdaugh and grandfather Randolph Murdaugh III walked in and stopped him.
“They came in and said Paul’s not saying anything else, and I told them I’m talking to Paul and they said no, you’re talking to us now,” Pritcher said.
Pritcher said that was the moment when “everything clicked in who the Murdaughs were.”
He said he knew “that they were just lawyers in the area and owned a bunch of land,” the lawsuit said.
Pritcher then went into Paul’s ex-girlfriend’s room, he testified. Pritcher described her as “skittish” and told her she was worried because Alex Murdaugh was trying to come into her room.
Pritcher’s report said that Alex Murdaugh tried to enter her hospital room while she was speaking to SCDNR.
According to depositions, it appears as though Paul’s ex girlfriend — who suffered a horrific injury in the crash —at first indicated in her statement to SCDNR that she thought Connor may have been driving, but she changed that statement within minutes. She said her head was under a blanket at the time of the crash.
While an initial report by the Port of Port Royal police department said that all five boaters were grossly intoxicated when authorities arrived on the scene, multiple depositions and other reports dispute that claim. However, depositions and reports do all make one common accusation — that Paul Murdaugh appeared grossly intoxicated on the night of the crash.
Several of the boaters testified Paul appeared drunk leading up to the crash. According to depositions:
- Paul was visibly drunk and it was obvious to the other boaters it wasn’t safe for him to be driving.
- After they left the dock in Beaufort, Paul started driving extremely slowly.
- Paul took his clothes off while in the boat (while the temperature was about 59 degrees). One boater said Paul was “acting like he was on drugs” and making a fool out of himself.
- On several occasions, Connor Cook took the wheel of the boat while Paul paced around shouted at his then-girlfriend
- Paul Murdaugh then pushed, spit on, and slapped his then-girlfriend in the face.
Several police reports and law enforcement officers testified that Paul Murdaugh appeared to be very intoxicated after the crash. According to depositions:
- Keener said Paul was “just being belligerent and stupid.”
- Keener said they had to send a deputy with Paul in the ambulance because “he was being so stupid and drunk.”
- Pritcher said that Paul appeared intoxicated at the hospital and was “acting pretty act of control.”
- Pritcher said Paul Murdaugh had to be strapped to a gurney and there was a security officer monitoring him at the hospital.
A Beaufort County sheriff’s office report said Paul was “almost aggressive towards EMS personnel” during the ambulance ride to the hospital.
These reports underscore concerns as to why Paul Murdaugh was not administered a field sobriety test.
Because of the initial confusion in the investigation, it took two months for authorities to charge Paul with three felony counts of boating under the influence. Unlike the vast majority of felony BUI cases, Paul Murdaugh never stepped foot in jail. At the time of his death, he was facing 25 years in prison for the charges.
Obstruction of Justice Investigation
There appears to be multiple investigations into obstruction of justice allegations in the 2019 boat crash — both on the civil and criminal sides of the law.
Weeks ago, FITSNews was first to report that Alex Murdaugh and possibly other members of his influential family were part of an ongoing investigation into alleged obstruction of justice related to the ongoing boat crash probe, according to our sources.
This obstruction of justice investigation is currently before the statewide grand jury in Columbia, S.C. according to FITSNews sources.
All of the boat crash survivors — and Beach’s family members — voluntarily submitted to questioning and volunteered to provide their DNA as a part of the double homicide investigation, according to FITSNews sources.
A source close to the family also told FITSNews that the Beaches have not been questioned again since providing their statements and DNA.
We hope these investigations will lead to answers in this ongoing mystery.
Stay tuned for the latest developments…
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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