A vest saved Officer Cory Goldstein’s life last weekend, not any law that keeps criminal offenders off the street, top Charleston officials said Thursday.
Goldstein’s body armor absorbed a .40-caliber bullet that would have hit the 23-year-old’s heart, very likely sparing him a fatal wound.
But the man accused of firing the round Saturday night in West Ashley should have never even had the chance, Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen and Mayor Joe Riley said.
Mark L. Blake Jr., 26, who has past firearms and drug convictions, was freed on $50,000 bail last year after troopers said they caught him drunk, armed and with enough cocaine to qualify him as a trafficker.
Deputies arrested him again in February on charges of trafficking cocaine, as well as heroin, one of the most addictive, illicit drugs on the street.
Again he posted bail, this time $55,000. Under a surety bond, Blake would have paid 10 percent of the total bail amount.
“It makes me feel physically ill ... to receive a call that an officer has been shot,” Mullen said. “When you learn that the offender has been released on multiple bonds for repeated violent offenses, it makes me angry. ... Every police officer in this department is angry.”
The chief and the mayor called for other officials statewide to join their push for legislation to change what they said was a broken system for the setting and revoking of bail.
Under bills being considered in Columbia, someone already out on bail who gets arrested again for a violent crime would go before a judge, who could revoke bail.
It would allow court officials to assume that someone who has been arrested multiple times is a potential danger to the community.
Being convicted of the second crime would mean a mandatory five years behind bars.
Charleston officials had a role in drafting the measure, but it’s a fight they have been battling for years.
They mentioned it most recently after 17-year-old Marley Lion was fatally shot in West Ashley last year.
In Blake’s case, the drug-trafficking charges he was arrested on during the winter are deemed violent crimes under state law.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said her office has its own internal system in which prosecutors file motions to revoke bail for defendants who are arrested for a violent crime while out on bail.
But it’s not a speedy method.
Prosecutors didn’t learn about the extent of the new allegations against Blake until within the past week, she said, when they received the warrants, affidavits and police reports about the case.
It was too late. They filed to revoke his bail Monday — two days after Goldstein was shot.
Wilson’s office also does periodic checks of jail records to find alleged reoffenders, but she said the process is time-consuming and can be foiled by clerical errors.
The onus, she said, should be on the judges who are the first to hear about new charges against former offenders, not the solicitors who work on the back end. And it should be written in law, she said.
“We cobbled something together to try to catch these things,” Wilson said. “But if judges were forced to presume someone with multiple arrests and bonds were a danger to the community, there would be less of these thugs getting out.”
Goldstein had been patrolling West Ashley with an eye for suspicious activity Saturday night when something about a red Hyundai caught his eye. Authorities still have not said what.
The car didn’t stop for his blue lights, then it crashed at Savannah Highway and Interstate 526. Its driver ran; Goldstein followed.
Behind a nearby Comfort Suites, the man stopped, turned and shot Goldstein, police said. The officer fired back until Blake fell to the ground, reports stated. Backup officers were close behind.
“The shot to the chest ... would’ve knocked anyone else down,” Riley said. “But it didn’t knock him down.”
Goldstein left a hospital Tuesday; Blake remains there.
The officer epitomizes the department’s motto, his chief said: “Stay in the fight.”
After Goldstein graduated from the University of North Florida in 2011, he was attracted to Charleston as a place he’d “like to serve his community,” Mullen said.
“I saw him every day when he was in the hospital,” the chief said. “There is no indication that he is not eager, willing and ready to get back out on the street.”
Mullen already has ordered a new vest.