COLUMBIA - Members of the General Assembly's Legislative Black Caucus began a push Thursday to repeal South Carolina's 2006 stand your ground law, which they said has been used by criminals to justify killing innocent people and has needlessly escalated confrontations.
At a press conference in the lobby of the Statehouse, Black Caucus members said their proposal, H. 4801, keeps in place the state's "castle doctrine," which gives wide latitude to those who use deadly force on their property when they feel threatened. The legislators want to take out the part of the law that allows for a person to "stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force" if a person is "in another place where he has the right to be." Under that part of the law, if a person is threatened, they can use deadly force if they feel it's necessary wherever they are.
Rep. Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, sponsored the bill, and 16 others have signed on as co-sponsors.
"The Legislative Black Caucus is very tired of seeing black and brown parents crying and praying over their dead sons," said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, one of the co-sponsors. She said the law has been subject to "misuse and abuse."
The mother of 17-year-old Columbia student Darrell Niles, who was shot and killed in 2010, also faced reporters, saying that her son's killer is walking free while she will never see her boy again because of the state's laws.
"It's hard, it's really hard," Deatra Niles said. "The law needs to go. My son is not here."
Niles and others also criticized Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, the House minority leader and perhaps the most prominent member of the Black Caucus who did not attend the press conference, for his support of the law and his role as the defense attorney in the Niles case.
"Todd is becoming the face of the 'stand your ground' defense," said Kevin Gray, a Columbia writer and activist who spoke at the press conference.
Shannon Scott admitted to shooting and killing Niles after his daughter was being pursued in a car by a group of "women thugs," Rutherford has said, according to The State newspaper. Scott confronted the women on his property and fired at them. Niles, who was nearby, was hit instead, and his mother said Thursday that he was there trying to defend the girl.
Niles was unarmed and in his car when he was killed. A judge has granted Scott immunity from prosecution.
Rutherford called lawmakers seeking repeal "sick" for including Deatra Niles as part of their repeal efforts. He also said that because Scott felt threatened on his own property, the lawmakers were "ignorant" of the law. Their repeal effort would still not have convicted Scott. Rutherford said Scott would have been granted immunity because he felt threatened on his property, the "castle doctrine" part of the law that those pushing for repeal say would stay intact.
Rutherford said he voted for the law in 2006. "I'd vote for it again," he said. "It is a codification of common sense. This (repeal effort) is just someone looking for press. They are simply wrong, they don't know what they are talking about."
He said the true injustice in the Niles case were the women in the car that were pursuing Scott's daughter and intended to hurt her. They were never charged, he said.
Since 2010, the law has come into play in at least 13 cases in Charleston. Eight of those came last year, according to a Post and Courier tally.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, whose office has handled many of the recent cases, has said publicity around 'stand your ground' cases has made attorneys and defendants more aware of the law's protections.
Cases that are appealed to the state's Supreme Court also have helped clarify how the law applies to real situations, she said.
"They're raising it more often than they have in the past," Wilson said. "Using this sort of technical avenue probably has increased based on ... the popularity of it."
Those seeking repeal say they hope to get the measure to the floor of the House and Senate for debate this session.
Staff writer Andrew Knapp contributed to this report.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 843-708-5837 or on Twitter @Jeremy_Borden.