Task force looking at how officer involved shootings are handled - FOX Carolina 21

Task force looking at how officer involved shootings are handled in South Carolina

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GREENVILLE, SC (FOX Carolina) -

Examining the use of deadly force, a state task force made up of five South Carolina solicitors, two legislators, SLED and the Department of Public Safety has come up with recommendations they hope lawmakers will discuss when they get back to work in January.

The task force has been meeting for the past year.  We talked to Solicitor Walt Wilkins, who is on that task force.  He said we are one of nine states that don't have an excessive force statute on the books.

Solicitor Wilkins said the Michael Slager case that unfolded in state court last year got South Carolina solicitors talking about laws and policies surrounding officer-involved shootings.

Solicitor Wilkins said, “I think Solicitor Wilson, after she tried the case in Charleston realized that the law in South Carolina is extremely vague.  We don't have a use of force statute in South Carolina.”  He went on to say, “So we really don't have guidelines for what is okay for law enforcement to do and what is not okay.”

Michael Slager was the former North Charleston police officer who shot Walter Scott as he ran from a traffic stop.

It was this case, and other high profile officer-involved shootings, including the 2015 shooting death of Seneca teen Zachary Hammond, that prompted the formation of the task force by the South Carolina Prosecution Commission

Solicitor Wilkins says they looked at four different issues and came up with four different recommendations, but there are two he thinks are most important.

First, Wilkins suggested putting in place an excessive force statute. 

“They're going out there trying to protect us, not knowing if they are making the right call or not because they don't have a lot of guidance and that's not fair to them," said Wilkins. "It's not fair to the public and it's bad for public safety.”

And secondly, he suggested creating a separate unit within the State Attorney General's office that would investigate things like officer-involved shootings and allegations of criminal misconduct by law enforcement.

While SLED gets handed many of those cases, Solicitor Wilkins said that's not official protocol.

“They're not required to, it’s up to the discretion of the agency where the incident occurred," Wilkins explained. "In Richland County, SLED does not do the investigations, so no there's no uniformity among the state.”

He says that's why a separate unit within the Attorney General’s office could be beneficial.

“There needs to be a unit dedicated to these types of cases, because we have the conflict issue that continues to rise," Wilkins said. "The idea or suggestion is that there is a Law Enforcement Integrity Unit that is housed inside the AG's office that will investigate or assist in investigation and/or prosecute or exonerate these cases.”

We talked with Attorney General Alan Wilson about having that unit in his office.  It's something he's on board with. 

“I would like to see every solicitor have as close to a uniform policy as possible across the state and have the policy where the public can see it,” said Wilson.

Both Solicitor Wilkins and Attorney General Wilson said the recommendations by the task force are about transparency and efficiency, so that public safety is never compromised.

Attorney General Wilson said, “The public needs to have transparency, they need to have confidence and they need to have predictability. If this happens, this is how your office will handle it.”

Solicitor Wilkins also told us that for now, his office is coming up with their own specific policies and procedures for investigating officer-involved shootings in the 13th Circuit, which includes Greenville and Pickens counties.

He said it will be clearly defined, so that the process is fair and transparent.  It should be ready in the coming weeks.

We talked to several members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committee from the Upstate. They told us they don't want to comment until they've seen the report. 

We also spoke with Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller.  He said he hasn't seen the recommendations yet, but he hopes that law enforcement will have a voice in this process.

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