During the run-up to the double homicide trial of convicted killer Alex Murdaugh, we learned a lot about the “Cowboys,” a “violent street gang” from Walterboro, South Carolina that was allegedly mixed up in Murdaugh’s check-cashing schemes.
And perhaps other illicit activities …
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the Cowboys often post “threats, firearms, large amounts of cash, and what (are) purported to be narcotics on Facebook and YouTube.” And according to our sources in Walterboro, they remain very much active in the drug trade throughout the Palmetto Lowcountry.
The Cowboys hit the statewide stage in the fall of 2021 and made a brief reappearance in the summer of 2022 when prosecutors in the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson accused two alleged members of being “downstream beneficiaries” of Murdaugh’s alleged theft from his clients, friends, and former law partners.
Their role in the saga? It is unclear – just as it is unclear how Murdaugh’s ties to an alleged drug smuggler fit into the still-unsolved puzzle of this sprawling crime and corruption saga. It’s also still not entirely clear how Murdaugh was getting massive quantities of prescription-grade oxycodone – or what he was doing with all of the drugs.
The bigger mystery? What, if any, role these drug connections may have played a role in Murdaugh’s spectacular unraveling – which culminated in the June 7, 2021 murders of his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and younger son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh.
Murdaugh was convicted of killing his wife and son on March 2, 2023 and was sentenced to life in prison the following day – even though the only thing prosecutors definitively proved in their circumstantial case was that he was at the crime scene moments before his family members were gunned down (and lied about being there).
Will we ever know for sure what really happened?
We do know several individuals with ties to the Cowboys are set to stand trial in the coming months on charges related to the Murdaugh saga. Meanwhile, Murdaugh himself is still facing more than a hundred alleged financial crimes which could shed additional light on his money machinations – and what may have motivated the murders of his family members.
Oh, and the statewide grand jury is continuing to investigate multiple components of this story … including its various drug-related connections.
In the meantime, the Cowboys are making headlines in connection with an unrelated incident which took place in neighboring Charleston County, S.C. over the weekend. According to a news release (.pdf) from the county sheriff’s department, deputy Evan Cubbage initiated a traffic stop on U.S. Highway 17 near Ravenel, S.C. at approximately 3:45 p.m. on Sunday (May 7, 2023). That stretch of Highway 17 – the Savannah Highway – is a major drug artery from Walterboro to Charleston.
“Tons of product moves through here into the city,” a source familiar with the situation told me.
As Cubbage and another deputy approached the vehicle, its passenger – 28-year-old James Rakeem Pierce of Walterboro – allegedly pulled a gun and opened fire on them, hitting Cubbage three times. Deputies returned fire, killing Pierce (.pdf), who has been described by our sources as a leader of the Cowboys gang.
Cubbage was released from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) on Monday after being treated for his wounds – which were non-life threatening.
As is the protocol in the vast majority of officer-involved shootings in South Carolina, agents of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) have been asked to investigate this incident. At the conclusion of its inquiry, agents will present their independent, investigatory findings to the solicitor with jurisdiction over the county or municipality where the shooting transpired. In this case, that is S.C. ninth circuit solicitor Scarlett Wilson.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” a statement (.pdf) from the agency noted.
‘CATCH AND RELEASE …’
Reaction to Sunday’s shooting was predictable. Because it was an officer-involved shooting which resulted in the death of a suspect, it made national news – with The Associated Press headlining its story “Deputies Kill Man In South Carolina Traffic Stop Shootout.”
Local media outlets simply accepted the soundbites they were spoon-fed … and (as usual) did precisely zero digging. There was no effort to assess the underlying situation, or discuss how it might be part of a larger narrative.
“This traffic stop highlights the danger that our deputies face day in and day out,” Charleston sheriff Kristin Graziano said in a statement. “They have to put themselves in harm’s way. We are very fortunate that these two deputies survived this incident.”
Graziano is certainly correct about the growing dangers deputies are facing in our increasingly violent state. She is also correct to note how fortunate it was that neither Cubbage nor fellow Charleston deputy Alexander Hodge were killed in this shooting.
But she missed the bigger point …
The sad reality highlighted by this shooting – and others like it – is the ongoing failure of South Carolina’s notoriously lax system of “justice.” In particular, it exposed how two officials with close ties to the Murdaughs failed miserably in performing their public safety duties.
When this news outlet first obtained Pierce’s publicly available arrest record (.pdf) from SLED’s “Citizen Access To Criminal Histories” (CATCH) database, we immediately noticed it was … well … lengthier than most of the arrest records we pull. Much lengthier. Nine pages, to be precise.
We are talking dozens of charges, people.
From 2011-2021, Pierce had been arrested numerous times for a myriad of violent crimes included kidnapping, armed robbery, attempted murder (multiple counts), burglary, unlawful carrying of a pistol, possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, pointing and presenting a firearm, discharging a firearm into a dwelling, resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, possessing a stolen firearm and many others.
(Click to view)
In addition to these charges, Pierce also had multiple arrests on his record for drug possession, possession with intent to distribute (cocaine), manufacturing and trafficking (ice, crank or crack).
Furthermore, he was arrested in March of 2021 – and again in June of 2021 – for violating his probation.
So, here is the obvious question: With so many arrests on his record, what was this career criminal, gang leader and drug dealer doing on the streets?
Why was he not behind bars?
Seriously, how does someone charged so many times with so many violent crimes tied to so many separate incidents keep getting second, third, fourth and fifth chances?
The answer, of course, is South Carolina’s “injustice” system – a badly broken network of prosecutors and judges which consistently coddles violent criminals and perpetually puts their interests ahead of those of their victims.
In this case, both prosecutors and judges are to blame. More than two dozen of Pierce’s charges were either flat out dismissed or listed as nolle prosequi (do not wish to prosecute) by the office of S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor Duffie Stone.
Stone, readers will recall, employed Alex Murdaugh as a deputy solicitor during the time Pierce received what amounted to a gift-wrapped stack of get-out-of-jail free cards. Pierce also received a sweetheart plea deal in May of 2019 from Perry Buckner – a notoriously pro-Murdaugh circuit court judge.
This is definitional coddling, people … and two police officers nearly lost their lives last weekend as a result of it.
Again, though. This is nothing new. Tragically, such serial accommodation of dangerous offenders is par for the course in the Palmetto State … where GOP leaders secretly embrace woke justice while repeatedly hanging victims of violent crimes out to dry.
As I often note, South Carolina’s current system has enabled institutional corruption, shredded the rights of victims, empowered violent criminals and materially eroded public safety. Yet the powerful lawyer-legislators who run the system do nothing to fix it – and in fact continue defending it.
When will it stop?
JAMES PIERCE ARREST RECORD …james-pierce-sled-catch-redacted
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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How many innocent victims will be killed or seriously injured before our laws are changed and these thugs required to be held accountable? I am afraid and saddened that this reign of terror will continue far too long?
If he’s not convicted of the things he is arrested for, what would you like the laws to be changed to?
“Allegedly pulled a gun” ? Yeah ok
I’m, sorry but did you see the Video? He 100% pulled and gun on the officers, what do you think they were running for cover for and dodging? It’s people like you that protect scum of the earth because you are probably just like them.
This video was 100% justified and was a win win, the officers (good guys) live and the thug, POS, gang leader (bad guy) is DEAD and off the streets.
Arrests don’t mean anything unless he’s convicted, idiots.
Fortunately, he won’t ever have to be arrested again given that he’s dead and rightfully so.
Arrests don’t mean nothing…are you serious. So the guy with 0 arrests and the guy with 37 are cut from the same cloth ? Gotcha ?
LOL burn in hell bye bye
Why was he not in prison in the first place. The system is not working. It’s not working anywhere. The most incompetent law makers and legal system to ever exist! It’s sad that these are the people we have to depend on. It’s unfortunate for police officers- the ones that actually do their jobs.