Travis Jerome Miller has taken his last trip through the criminal justice system’s revolving door.
And it didn’t have to be that way.
Last week, Miller was a passenger in a BMW stopped by Hanahan police. The officers smelled pot and booze, so they told the four people in the car that they were going to be patted down.
Miller ran. And when officers chased him, he turned around and shot at them.
The police fired back. Miller was killed.
No matter how often these things happen — and they happen on a disturbingly regular basis these days — police officers never get used to it. What makes it worse from their perspective is that Miller had been in jail time and again. But he was still out on the street.
And as a result they could have been killed.
“Had the kid received the time he’d already earned, he’d be in prison and wouldn’t have shot at my officers,” Hanahan Police Chief Mike Cochran says.
And that’s the problem with the system.
Miller’s record is a stark reminder of how justice is — or isn’t — served in South Carolina.
Prosecutors classified him as fairly small-time, even though he had a rap sheet dating back five years, when he was 16.
In 2010 he was convicted on a burglary charge. There was a disorderly conduct/resisting arrest charge in 2012, followed a month later by a count of “entering premises” after a warning. There were a couple of other things — all minor, municipal offenses.
Perhaps the most serious offense came in 2011, when he served nearly six months on a charge of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute. Since he had sat in jail 171 days awaiting trial, Circuit Judge Thomas Hughston Jr. — “Judge Hug-a-Thug” in legal circles — let him out with time served.
Now, most prosecutors will tell you that five months for 1.8 grams of crack is pretty stiff punishment. Still, the solicitor’s office asked that Miller be put on probation, but Hughston declined to do that.
Not that it would have done any good. Even if he had been on probation, the namby pamby charges that Miller racked up likely would not have put him in prison for probation violation.
Prison officials complain that they don’t have room for folks with minor offenses like that, and judges usually comply. As a result, many people get arrested for parole violations but are quickly set free. Few get jail time, no matter how hard 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson tries.
If this sort of thing makes your blood boil, imagine what it does to police.
They arrest someone over and over, and still they run into that person again on the street. And sometimes these repeat offenders shoot at them.
Miller is not out of the ordinary by any means. Two of the other three passengers in the car with Miller had outstanding warrants. The driver had a 2006 conviction on possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
He got 30 months for that — 30 months on probation.
Now, few people would argue that Miller had done anything to deserve life in prison. And all of his priors were non-violent sorts of things (if you discount resisting arrest), so there was no way to see this gun thing coming.
The problem here is that the justice system is supposed to rehabilitate criminals — and Miller got none of that.
“This situation did not have to happen,” Cochran says.
He’s right. But time and again, Miller had the notion reinforced that there is little consequence for minor offenses.
Even probation violations get ignored, as much as Wilson and others push for a mandatory lock-up of anyone arrested on another crime while out on bail.
So Miller wasn’t really in that much trouble last week.
He’d been around enough to know that. It’s strange that he would even shoot at officers, risking conviction on a real crime, given his experience with arrests on minor offenses.
In fact, the way the justice system works, it’s a wonder he even bothered to run.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org or tune in to his live chat at noon on www.postandcourier.com