When federal agents wrapped up their initial investigation last month, they said Alice Boland truthfully answered questions about her mental health when she bought the pistol she later pointed at school officials in downtown Charleston.
The case sparked frustration among parents who learned that Boland had been forcefully treated for schizophrenia after authorities said she threatened to fatally shoot the president in 2005. It prompted lawmakers to introduce bills that would bolster background checks to stop mentally ill people from buying a gun.
But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives continued its probe into the 28-year-old Beaufort woman’s actions Feb. 4 at Ashley Hall and three days earlier at a gun store. The agents’ findings were forwarded to U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles, and a grand jury this week indicted Boland on four charges that accused her of lying to the gun seller.
She will face up to 30 years in a federal prison if convicted on the new counts.
Federal authorities on Wednesday declined to discuss the inconsistencies between the indictment and the ATF’s statements last month.
Beth Drake, spokeswoman for Nettles, said such questions should be raised in a courtroom, not in the media.
“The coverage on the case and the issue nationally has been good for this discussion,” Drake said. “We’ll be glad to talk the case over once it’s resolved.”
Earl Woodham, a supervisory special agent for the ATF in Charlotte, also declined to comment.
Days after the Ashley Hall encounter, Woodham said the ATF would not directly charge Boland but would defer to Nettles.
He said Boland “answered the questions truthfully” when she filled out a form asking whether she had ever been involuntarily committed. By law, such a history should prevent someone from buying a firearm from a retailer, but it’s up to the buyer to disclose the information.
Woodham’s words to The Post and Courier that there was “nothing illegal about the transaction” were repeated in Columbia and Washington by legislators looking to fix what they called a broken system for background checks.
They stumped for legislation that would require South Carolina to report mentally ill people to a database.
But under the indictment unsealed Wednesday, Boland is charged with making false statements to purchase a firearm, illegally possessing a firearm because of mental incompetence, possessing a firearm in a school zone and attempting to discharge a firearm in a school zone.
The indictment stated that Boland deceived the federally licensed dealer Feb. 1 when she bought the .22-caliber Taurus PT22 pistol at Walterboro Gun Shop.
She “well knew she had been adjudicated mentally defective and she had been committed to a mental institution,” it stated.
The first two counts each carry up to 10 years in prison and three years of probation. The second two each are punishable by up to five years behind bars.
Boland, who is scheduled to be arraigned March 27 in U.S. District Court, still faces five state charges, including attempted murder. She remains jailed.
Her public defender, Megan Ehrlich, had been scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing today.
But Ehrlich waived the proceeding. Attempts to contact her Wednesday by telephone and by email were not successful.
Despite the federal indictment, Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said the state case is “proceeding as planned.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at firstname.lastname@example.org
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