Charleston police cite public safety in withholding public information
After more than six hours of poring over and redacting supplemental incident reports in the alleged murder-for-hire plot, the Charleston Police Department said Friday that it would not release the information because it could “compromise community safety” and foil a federal probe.
The Post and Courier requested the reports because they might indicate how the alleged scheme against state lottery official Nancy Latham involved others in the Lowcountry. They also might show exactly how the community is in danger, as the police stated.
Deputy Police Chief Tony Elder said Friday afternoon that he was working with federal prosecutors to prepare the reports. By Friday evening, Elder said the U.S. Attorney’s Office had concluded that the records would be too damaging to its investigation if divulged publicly.
Elder said in a statement that his agency was aware of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, but also “the sensitive nature of this information and the grave potential harm that could occur if it is released prematurely.”
Under the state law, the agency that drafted the reports must show that it would be harmed by their release; an outside agency’s investigation does not factor in.
The extent of any Charleston police charges against anyone accused in the alleged plot is a single count of driving under suspension.
Attempts by telephone and e-mail to contact Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams, who is handling the federal case, were fruitless.
Jay Bender, an attorney for the S.C. Press Association, said the police department is not at the “whim and caprice of the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” and should release the supplemental reports.
“It’s just another example of law enforcement ignoring the law when it’s convenient for them,” Bender said. “The Charleston Police Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office need to put on their big-boy pants, read the law and release the records.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.