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Charleston police hope security plans for Roof, Slager trials will balance safety, normalcy

  • Updated
Press conference on trial security

Glenn Smith/Staff

Police officials say they hope to maintain safety while keeping Charleston operating as normally as possible as the city prepares to host dueling trials of national significance across the street from one another in the weeks to come.

Area law enforcement leaders have been huddling to devise a security plan to maintain order during the upcoming trials of Emanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof and former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, who is charged in the April 2015 killing of Walter Scott. Jury selection in Slager's case begins Oct. 31 in the county courthouse at Broad and Meeting streets. The proceedings for Roof get underway Nov. 7 at the federal courthouse across the street.

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said the city's emergency operations center will open on Oct. 31 at 7 a.m. and security measures will be in effect for the duration of both trials. 

A "safety zone" will be set up from Queen to Tradd streets, between King and Meeting streets, and officers will be stationed at posts throughout the area to keep on eye on things, Mullen said. No checkpoints are planned, and police hope to keep the area open and operating as normally as possible, he said.

"We don't anticipate closing off the area at this point," Mullen said. "Our goal right now is to have people in place to address any situation that might arise." 

Assistant Charleston County Sheriff Mitch Lucas said officials have met with representatives from the NAACP, the National Action Network, clergy and other groups to discuss security measures and plans for peaceful demonstrations. Authorities are working to set up a designated area for protesters so that people can demonstrate without interfering with court operations, he said. 

Lucas said authorities have never dealt with a situation quite like this before, but they have worked closely to ensure the proceedings go as smoothly as possible. "I think the plan is going to work," he said.

Mount Pleasant Police Chief Carl Ritchie said his officers will be active in a support role, backing up other departments and assisting where needed. He said unity marches have helped bring the community together since the two racially charged incidents occurred, but he urged people to hold off on such events until the trials conclude. These marches require a great deal of police manpower to staff, and authorities don't want to pull officers off security assignments and other tasks while the trials are underway, he said.

Slager, 34, faces between 30 years and life in prison on the state murder charge in the shooting death of Scott, 50. A bystander captured the killing on a video that brought national scrutiny on the white officer's use of force against Scott, a black man.

Roof, 22, is accused of killing nine worshipers in June 2015 at Emanuel AME Church in an apparent hate crime. He faces the death penalty in his federal trial.

Mullen said he had no estimate at this point as to how much the security operation will cost or how many officers or agencies will eventually be brought in to assist. He said that will depend on how things go, and police are trying to be as flexible as possible to deal with any threat or disruption that might arise.

Mullen said police will make a concerted effort to keep the community informed as events unfold. He urged people to contact police if they witness anything concerning, have information that might prove useful for security or if they know of outside groups who plan to come to the city to protest. People can call 843-720-2401 to speak with police. 

Reach Glenn Smith at 843-937-5556 or follow him on Twitter @glennsmith5.

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