SLED agent fired after Facebook post

A state agent who investigated the North Charleston police shooting of Walter Scott has been fired after he posted on Facebook about prosecutors’ “flawed” case in an unnamed homicide probe, an official said in court documents filed this week.

Special Agent Almon Brown, a forensics expert at the State Law Enforcement Division, was terminated Aug. 12, according to a letter from SLED Chief Mark Keel.

The letter does not specifically connect Brown’s firing to the case against Michael Slager, whose shooting of Scott on April 4 was captured on a bystander’s cellphone video. The agent’s termination was mentioned in court paperwork filed Wednesday by attorneys for Slager, who faces trial on a murder charge. Parts of the letter were redacted.

Attempts on Thursday to reach SLED spokesmen were not successful.

The documentation has raised further questions about SLED’s ability to thoroughly and independently investigate police shootings in South Carolina. Most agencies in the state ask SLED to conduct probes into shootings involving their officers.

A Post and Courier analysis earlier this year, titled “Shots Fired,” found that SLED often left key questions unanswered and failed to thoroughly probe the background of officers who pull the trigger. Last month, Keel said police should start looking for ways to learn lessons from shooting cases.

SLED also fired an agent last year over alleged dishonesty, accusing Michele China, a senior agent in the Lowcountry, of doctoring paperwork in a child death probe and inserting a confession into a memo about an interview with a suspect in the case.

Brown has served as an expert on a federal committee on bloodstain analysis, according to a Commerce Department website. He also has been the second vice president for the South Carolina division of the International Association for Identification, a group of forensic scientists.

In his August letter about the agent’s firing, Keel said Brown had “acted improperly” on July 8 when he posted on another person’s public Facebook page about “a pending homicide case.”

“The Facebook posting included a news article that referenced the subject and victim of the case,” Keel wrote. “You made negative comments about the strength of the prosecution’s case, implying that it was a flawed case.”

The copy of the letter in the motion by Slager defense lawyer Andy Savage does not cite the exact words Brown was accused of using.

Savage asked in the paperwork for a judge to order authorities to hand over information about the internal affairs probe into the Facebook post. The document called Brown a primary investigator on Slager’s case.

The motion came as the defense team and prosecutors plan to meet at 10 a.m. Friday to discuss the status of Slager’s prosecution. Circuit Judge Clifton Newman has not set a trial date. He could discuss scheduling, along with Savage’s motion, during the hearing.

In a separate filing Wednesday, Savage also raised concerns that testing of Slager’s Taser might have compromised DNA evidence on the stun gun.

Scott was pulled over on Remount Road for a broken brake light, and he ran away during the traffic stop. After Slager chased him, the two got into a struggle in which the officer fired his Taser at Scott.

Slager’s defense is expected to focus on the officer’s contention that Scott had attacked Slager and tried to use the device on him. Scott’s DNA or traces of Slager’s uniform on the Taser could indicate that Scott had control of the stun gun and turned it against the officer, Slager’s attorneys have contended.

Scott eventually freed himself from the tussle. After both men stood, Scott started running away, and Slager fired eight bullets at the fleeing man, hitting him five times from behind.

Concerned about SLED’s handling of evidence in the case, Savage asked Newman on Sept. 10 to demand that the state preserve all information related to the shooting. The judge agreed and issued an order.

But the next day, Slager’s Taser showed up at Taser International in Arizona after SLED shipped the device there, Savage’s filing this week stated. Company officials said they examined the device “with no thought of preserving ... any fingerprint or DNA,” a Taser attorney told prosecutors and private investigators during a conference call that was included in Savage’s filing. Asked if Taser’s analysis had interfered with any future testing that could be done, a company expert said, “Not intentionally.”

But 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said in a filing Thursday that all known evidence on the Taser had been preserved. And because Slager was captured on the cellphone video touching Scott after the shooting, then picking up the Taser and dropping it near Scott’s body, the value of any DNA evidence on the stun gun would be minimal.

Reach Andrew Knapp at 843-937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.