North Charleston police arrested Esaurolo Lopez-Cano in April after he was accused of punching a woman in the face, dragging her by the hair and threatening to kill her.
They had witnesses, a partial confession and surveillance video of the attack — enough to charge him with second-degree assault and battery.
Lopez-Cano could have gone to prison for three years, but court records show the charge was dismissed.
That sort of news often gets people raising Cain on social media, or at least asking the obvious question: Why did this person get off?
Now, anyone can find out.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson has just launched a new case search feature on the 9th Circuit’s website, www.scsolicitor9.org, that allows the public to review every investigation her prosecutors handle, every bond revocation they request, as well as the reasoning behind their decisions.
This will lift the veil off the intricacies of the criminal justice system, at least locally; no other prosecutor in South Carolina offers this level of detail to the public. It is exactly the sort of transparency that civil rights groups have sought for years.
And that’s the idea. Wilson says this accountability will not only help the public, but her office, as well.
“The real shame would not be discovering that we have unconscious biases in our criminal justice system,” Wilson says. “We know that unconscious bias runs deep in every corner of this country. Studies have shown it in education and health care and every other government institution. ... The shame would be in not doing all we can to eliminate bias — implicit or otherwise.”
Wilson and her staff will now have the ability to study their own statistics and ensure local prosecutors are applying the law equitably by race. You know, are they routinely offering probation to white people charged with possession of cocaine while sending African Americans to prison?
The American Civil Liberties Union contends that making this sort of information public will cut down on mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system — goals that nearly 9 out of 10 Americans support.
But most of the 2,400 elected prosecutors in the country don’t even compile the most basic statistics about their work, although the National District Attorneys Association recognizes that's a problem.
The 9th Circuit Transparency Initiative, as this database is called, also includes court docket information and trial outcomes, as well as every request the solicitor’s office makes to revoke a suspect’s bond.
“Very few prosecutors tell the public why we ask for this or that, or here’s why we dismissed the case,” Wilson says. “Some people are not going to agree with every decision, but they will know what prosecutors are thinking.”
For instance, last month, Maulique Heyward was convicted in a December 2016 shooting death, but Wilson’s staff dismissed a related charge of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. Again: why?
Records in the database explain that Heyward was sentenced to 45 years for murder and prosecutors decided that spending the time to convict him on a separate gun charge was redundant. Makes sense, given the thousands of cases the office handles every year.
These records shed welcome light on the slow grind of justice. The website notes when trials are delayed by late discovery or police not turning over evidence. It also shows how often judges refuse to revoke bonds.
“It’s important for people to know we aren’t refusing to prosecute cases simply because we don’t want to,” Wilson says.
No one has ever accused Wilson of being soft on crime. She has proven time and again she will prosecute anyone to the fullest extent of the law. But she’s not unfair, and sharing this sort of information not only proves that, it gives the public more accountability over the Solicitor’s Office.
It may even clear up some of the mysteries of our judicial system. Such as, why did prosecutors drop the second-degree assault charges against Lopez-Cano?
Well, it turns out ICE deported him in May — one month after the assault. The victim was happy with that outcome and saw no need to bring him back to the United States for a trial.
With Wilson’s Transparency Initiative, now everyone can know the rest of the story.