Jury mulling charges against former councilman accused of exposing himself and shooting off gun

Robert Harvey Payne was charged by Mount Pleasant police with three counts of first degree assault and battery, discharging a firearm in the town limits, disorderly conduct and drunkenness in public. His trial began Feb. 06, 2013.

Was former Mount Pleasant town councilman Robert Payne trying to shoot his neighbors in 2011 or was he just sending a message by drunkenly peeing off his boat, flipping them off and blasting a shotgun in the air?

That is a question a Charleston County jury is mulling as they try to decide whether to convict Payne, 67, on charges of first-degree assault and battery, pointing or presenting a firearm and with indecent exposure.

The jury failed to reach a verdict on the charges today and will resume deliberations at 9:30 a.m. Friday. The trial began Monday and closing arguments ended around 3:30 p.m. today.

Payne is accused of shooting a gun and exposing himself in a marsh near Shem Creek on Memorial Day weekend in 2011. Payne was staying on a houseboat there and his presence rankled some of the neighbors. They didn’t like the fact he was moored close to their homes in the Bayview Acres subdivision and drinking and urinating off his boat, authorities said.

Public Defender Ashley Pennington argued that Payne wasn’t trying to hurt anyone that day. He shot his gun in the air to irritate the neighbors. The blast didn’t hit them or their homes, and he was so far away the round would not even have broken the skin had it made contact, he said.

At most, Pennington said, Payne was guilty of discharging a firearm within town limits. The allegations and his arrest, however, presented the “perfect fix” for neighbors looking to get rid of Payne, he said.

“This was a case about annoying someone, not assaulting them,” Pennington said.

Pennington also argued that Payne was simply making a constitutionally protected “symbolic statement” when he dropped his trousers and flipped off one neighbor he had disagreed with. He said Payne was exercising his freedom of speech in trying to convey a message to that neighbor.

Assistant Solicitor Julie Cardillo said that argument was “an insult to common sense.” She said two neighbors - one of whom had a little boy with him - thought the drunken Payne was aiming the gun at them and the blast could well have done serious damage, she said.

“You can’t fire a shotgun at people,” she said. “You just can’t do that.”

Cardillo said Payne terrorized his neighbors and was now to trying to cast aspersions on them.

“Please don’t reward him for being a lousy shot,” she said.

The incident occurred on May 29, 2011. Police received a call about a man walking around drunk and naked in the marsh near. When officers arrived that night at about 7:10 p.m. they found Payne in the marsh carrying a shotgun and wearing swim trunks, according to an incident report. While officers were there, they heard a gunshot, then saw Payne walking toward them while holding the gun with the barrel pointed in the air, the report stated. That’s when officers arrested him.

Payne served as a Mount Pleasant town councilman from 1976-80.

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.

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