COLUMBIA, SC — State NAACP leader Lonnie Randolph lost his bid Wednesday to have a special prosecutor appointed in his misdemeanor case.
City Judge Steedley Bogan made his ruling in city court after hearing arguments from Randolph’s attorney, Joe McCulloch, who wanted Bogan to disqualify assistant city prosecutor Dana Thye and replace her with an independent special prosecutor.
McCulloch in his court filing July 30 argued the city attorney’s office is “compromised by civil liability concerns, political influence and fear of bad publicity.” Those pressures, he wrote, were keeping the city’s prosecutors from dropping the July 12 charges.
“I don’t find sufficient reason here to remove the prosecutor,” Bogan said at the end of an 18-minute hearing in a city courtroom along Washington Street.
Bogan’s ruling clears the way for Randolph’s trial on charges of disorderly conduct, trespassing and resisting arrest to begin, possibly in September, Bogan said. McCulloch and the police officers involved have asked for a jury trial.
Randolph has said his admittedly erratic conduct at a Five Points dry cleaners July 12 was caused by a longstanding, delicate diabetic condition. His lawyer argues that because of that medical condition, the charges should be dropped.
City prosecutor Thye, in her court statements, said the city is still investigating the case and appeared to leave open the possibility the city could ask a judge to drop the charges. But she also said the city continues to move forward with the case.
Randolph has faced allegations of favored treatment after City Manager Teresa Wilson showed up at the scene after getting a call from interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago. Randolph was no longer there when Wilson arrived. He was ticketed at the scene and, after a scuffle with police who were trying to arrest him, was taken to the hospital, where he refused treatment.
At Wednesday’s hearing, McCulloch said one of the people who complained to police about Randolph at the dry cleaners is “related by marriage to a city police officer, and that causes me some concern about the ability of the city to be objective.”
However, McCulloch also acknowledged no evidence has been found to show city prosecutors – who, like the city police who arrested Randolph, are part of city government – can’t be impartial.
But, McCulloch said, the appearance of a potential conflict of interest should be enough for Bogan to disqualify city prosecutors, especially given the highly politicized nature of the case.
“This matter has taken on a public life of its own,” McCulloch said, referring to statements about it by Mayor Steve Benjamin and Wilson.
Opposing McCulloch, Thye said, “This case should be handled like any other, and that’s all this office is seeking to do.”
No evidence exists that city prosecutors can’t act fairly, she said. “There’s only speculation that we cannot do our job without somehow finding ourselves in hot water with our employer.”
The case has attracted widespread attention.
Bogan, a part-time magistrate who in private practice occasionally argues cases before the S.C. Supreme Court, said the case appears to be progressing at the same rate as similar cases in which a defendant has requested a jury trial.
Randolph was not present for the hearing. McCulloch said he was out of town.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.