State lawmakers to consider having SLED investigate all officer-involved shootings

Rutherford

Several of South Carolina’s House members are discussing the idea of introducing legislation that would require the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate all officer-involved shootings, following the death of Walter Scott.

Rep. Carl Anderson, D-Georgetown, said several members are discussing filing a bill that would clarify who should investigate officer-involved shootings. Though most police departments usually call in SLED, it’s not a requirement, he said.

“Law enforcement needs to be held accountable,” Anderson said. “So we need a bill that’s going to make sure that they are accountable, records are straight, and someone can check behind them.”

The call comes after 50-year-old Scott, a father of four, was shot and killed by North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager. The 33-year-old fired officer has been charged with murder.

Though North Charleston Police turned over the case for investigation to SLED, that’s doesn’t always happen, said House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland. The pending bill would also require that the attorney general’s office take over the prosecution.

That’s likely a good change, said Charlie Condon, a Charleston criminal defense attorney and former state attorney general and solicitor. The general public probably doesn’t understand how often solicitors and officers work with each other, Condon said.

“The chances for there being either an actual conflict or the appearance of a conflict can be significant,” Condon said.

Plus, it makes for an awkward situation for the solicitor, Condon added. They may welcome handing the responsibility to someone else.

The American Civil Liberties Union supports both having independent oversight of these cases, and having a separate prosecutor, said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the organization.

“ACLU supports independent investigation of police killings to address the need for more oversight of the police,” Middleton said in a statement. “This doesn’t answer all of our concerns about lack of transparency and political influence. But of course we favor investigations that are conducted not only by a law enforcement agency upon its own officers but that have some independent body’s oversight.”

Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, is also drafting legislation that would require all police officers know CPR; North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said CPR was not immediately administered to Scott because not all officers know how to perform it.

Lawmakers will also discuss making changes to how much can be awarded in lawsuits involving officers, Rutherford said. There’s a cap of $300,000 on wrongful death lawsuits.

“You would not believe the insensitivity and the level of insult that the state engages in,” Rutherford said of when families file suit. “It is insulting.”

Rutherford said everyone keeps raising the issue of having officers wear body cameras. But the state doesn’t have to worry about protective measures when paying off families of those suing is cheaper, he said.

“When cops injure and kill, they do so cheaply,” Rutherford added. “You’ll start caring when the state has to pay more for killing people.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.