After a lead police investigator failed to show up in court last month, a magistrate dismissed a felony charge against one of two former College of Charleston fraternity brothers jailed in a drug-fueled sexual encounter with a teenager.
But officials said the detective's absence at the key hearing would not have mattered to the ultimate fate of the case against James West III, 22, who had been accused of forcing a 17-year-old victim to perform sex acts during an August frat party.
"The officer ... failed to record the date in his calendar," Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis said. "When he realized the mistake, he made the initiative to correct the issue."
The department asked prosecutors to seek an indictment of West on the same count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, Francis said.
But prosecutors decided not to after a reassessment of the case and a review of evidence favorable to West, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said. She declined to detail that evidence.
A separate charge against West remains pending.
Prosecutors also decided this month to abandon a felony charge against Timothy Seppi, 22, of Rockville, Md., who was accused of documenting the encounter with a cellphone. He already was serving probation for a misdemeanor.
The incident had prompted an alcohol ban at fraternity and sorority events at the Charleston campus, and the national headquarters of Alpha Epsilon Pi closed the local chapter involved. The victim also sued the college and the fraternity, alleging she was drugged and forced to perform sex acts on video.
The young woman respected prosecutors' decision not to pursue the cases, said her attorney, Nathan Hughey of Mount Pleasant. Her focus is on the lawsuit, he said.
"The bigger picture for her is making sure it doesn't happen to anyone else," Hughey said. "You have a culture that put her and others at risk. She's trying to effect change."
West, of Bennett Street in Charleston, and Seppi were first arrested in early September, soon after explicit images from Seppi's cellphone emerged. West was jailed on a charge of engaging a child in sexual performance and Seppi on two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.
The police, meanwhile, got the results of evidence testing in April and added charges against both men: the sexual conduct count for West and second-degree assault and battery for Seppi.
But after Detective Joe Harvill didn't appear May 23 for West's preliminary hearing, he learned from the court that all cases get dismissed when the officer isn't there, Francis said. Such proceedings typically task a magistrate with listening to testimony from the lead investigator and determining whether police had probable cause for the arrest.
Without Harvill to take the stand, Magistrate James Gosnell tossed out the case.
The case was unlikely to persist anyway, Wilson said, referring to her office's assessment of the evidence.
Assistant Attorney General Bethany Miles, whose office is still prosecuting West's original charge, said her office agreed with Wilson's determination.
West's attorney, Cameron Blazer of Mount Pleasant, declined to discuss the development until the case is resolved.
Then, before Seppi's scheduled preliminary proceeding June 14, prosecutors decided not to go forward with his assault charge, either. Gosnell dismissed it at their request.
Seppi's initial exploitation charges, both felonies, already had been dropped in exchange for his guilty plea to misdemeanor voyeurism.
That case saw an issue, as well.
Because of confusion over the law, Seppi was never made aware during his March plea hearing that he would be required to register as a sex offender. He later filed for post-conviction relief, prompting a judge to overturn the conviction a month later.
Seppi soon pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge: contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was sentenced to a year of probation and allowed to move back to Maryland.
"He's ready to put it past him," his lawyer, David Aylor of Charleston, said. "He’s trying to move on with his life."