NAACP chief seeks special prosecutor in his Five Points arrest

cleblanc@thestate.comJuly 30, 2013 

South Carolina NAACP President Dr. Lonnie Randolph

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com Buy Photo

— The state’s top NAACP official wants a special prosecutor assigned to his misdemeanor case or to have the city attorney’s office disqualified from trying allegations that he caused a confrontation at a Five Points dry cleaner’s store.

Lonnie Randolph argues in a motion filed late Tuesday in city court that the city attorney’s office is “compromised by civil liability concerns, political influence and fear of bad publicity.”

Those pressures, according to the motion and Randolph’s lawyer, Joe McCulloch, are keeping the city’s prosecutors from dropping the July 12 charges after the submission of sworn statements supporting Randolph that were submitted last week in city court.

Randolph clashed with an employee at Tripp’s Fine Cleaning in Five Points and the two police officers who attempted to arrest him on charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

The civil rights leader’s request is likely to add fuel to the debate about the handling of his case, including questions over whether he is receiving favorable treatment by the police and City Hall.

But McCulloch said the case should have been dismissed – and that is what’s unfair. He has said repeatedly that Randolph’s erratic behavior that day was a diabetic episode, which have been triggered several times by his lifelong struggle with Type 1 diabetes.

Critics have said the city is showing Randolph special treatment, a concern that was inflamed by city manager Teresa Wilson’s arrival at the dry-cleaning store. She said she showed up because she knew of Randolph’s medical condition. Wilson said she arrived after Randolph had been taken to a hospital.

Mayor Steve Benjamin later publicly criticized the idea of a city administrator going to crime scenes.

Efforts to reach chief city attorney Ken Gaines were unsuccessful Tuesday afternoon. Wilson said she knew nothing of Randolph’s request.

Interim police chief Ruben Santiago said he had not been notified and that he learned of Randolph’s request from a State newspaper reporter. Santiago had said days after the arrest that his department would support dropping the charges at the first court hearing for medical reasons.

But at that hearing last week, city prosecutor David Fernandez asked for more time to review the evidence, and the presiding municipal judge, Steedley Bogan, said he understood that the arresting officers want a jury trial.

McCulloch said a date for a hearing on the motion has not been set and he acted because he had heard nothing Tuesday from the city attorney.

Randolph wants a special prosecutor, someone from the state Attorney General’s office or a solicitor from another judicial circuit to handle the case. If that doesn’t happen, he requests that the city attorney’s office be disqualified.

In the motion, McCulloch says that his client’s case has been politicized, raising questions that Randolph’s charges will be handled “fairly and objectively ... without interference or ancillary concerns.”

Randolph’s request cites the rules of prosecutorial responsibilities, which state that prosecutors should refrain from proceeding with cases “that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause.”

“I had hoped for a decision from the city attorney’s office today,” McCulloch said Tuesday. “Hearing nothing, I felt that this is a responsible step to take.”

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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