Eight words set a fire under an already passionate Brian Jordan – stepfather to missing Aynor resident Zack Malinowski – that prompted him to look into writing a law to help families of the missing: “Let us know if you’ve heard from him.”
They’re words murmured by law enforcement after Brian and his wife Melissa filed a missing person’s report with the Horry County Police Department. Jordan said families who decide to turn to the police have, typically, exhausted all avenues of contacting their loved ones. Calls to family members, friends and places of employment have already been made before getting the police involved, Jordan said.
Malinowski, 19, was last seen Aug. 25 in Aynor and he was last spoken to by phone about 12:15 a.m. Aug. 26. The couple reported Malinowski missing on a Monday and heard back from a detective, who Jordan said was on vacation for a week, on Friday.
“That’s a long time when it’s your only child,” Brian Jordan said. “The one reason that I started writing Zack’s Law is the way some of the cases are treated. They’re not taken seriously at first.”
Jordan said when a person is reported missing, it should be on the police to identify if the person is really missing. Lt. Robert Kegler of the Horry County Police Department said it is policy for the department not to comment on impending or potential laws.
“It shouldn’t be on the family. We made the report,” Jordan said. “It places the burden of proof on the detective and they don’t take it seriously until a certain length of time passes and time is of the essence.
“We really need to address the situation.”
That is why Jordan is working with Sen. Luke Rankin on proposing Zack’s Law. Zack’s Law sets protocol for law enforcement when a missing person’s case is opened. Jordan said the earlier police can get involved, the better.
“The police have different avenues,” he said. “The police can check for any type of outgoing cellphone activity. The police can check through emails to see if anyone has written an email. They can also check social media to see if they wrote anything in private messaging or see if they logged on. The family doesn’t have that right, so we need the police.”
The proposed law also allows for limited power of attorney privileges for close family members to help maintain certain things in a missing person’s life, such as insurance policies and settling debts.
“We want to protect the rights of the missing person, because when they are missing, they are considered in the state of South Carolina to still be a legal, living resident,” Jordan said.
Rankin said the law was a “noble idea” and that it has some potential complications.
“Frankly, we’re researching it to see what is available which recognizes the legal imprimatur of the courts appointing someone as the power of attorney and whether that can be done on an expedited basis,” he said. “There are so many uncertainties here.”
The uncertainties, he said, revolve around making sure a person’s rights are not infringed upon.
“The transfer of someone’s property, albeit someone who is missing, is a real sacred and protected event,” Rankin said. “Brian and Melissa have gone through and know firsthand what it is like to go through this.”
He said the recent exposure of several high-profile missing person’s cases will likely not impact the speed of the proposed legislation.
“Does this make for a quick passage of this bill? I can’t forecast that, except to say that we’re in uncharted territory,” Rankin said. “It’s not against the law to be missing. The idea of a wellness check, as he is proposing, to effectively kick start the process and getting the courts involved, there may be precedence for that in some areas. But, from the practicality of this, it’ll be a difficult issue to do very, very quickly.”
Jordan said the law may be too late to help his stepson, but it’s not too late to help other families in the future.
“This law may or may not help Zack ... but it’s going to help a lot of people because all of these families go through the same thing,” Jordan said. “There’s not a system in place to handle missing persons in South Carolina.”
Below is a breakdown of what Brian Jordan, Zack Malinowski’s stepfather, would like to see become law in South Carolina:
Wellness check ordered by a court for the victim of a missing persons case. This would require a Notice to Appear to be served by an official of the court to the suspected missing persons residence. Law enforcement will also continue to make every effort to make contact and monitor for any activity by the suspected missing person. If there is no contact made, and the suspected missing person does not appear to court to address the Notice to Appear, a warrant for failure to appear will be served on the suspected missing person.
A limited power of attorney will be created for the missing person, with authority granted by the court to someone to handle the daily affairs of the missing person that do not pertain to the event of being missing. This will allow the missing person to continue to pay their health insurance, life insurance, mortgage and any other responsibilities as long as there are funds to do so. The limited power of attorney cannot be used to gain access to restricted information that is crucial in the investigation of the case. There will be access to certain emails that apply to normal bill paying responsibilities. The limited power of attorney cannot be used to create new accounts but can be used to close or settle active accounts if necessary. If the limited power of attorney is used to gain access to information that is used in the missing person investigation, such as cellphone records or social media accounts, a charge of obstruction of justice will be placed through the court.
If the missing person is out of contact due to illegal drug use, the limited power of attorney can force an intervention to get the missing person treatment. This could be court ordered so that the formerly missing person could not opt out of treatment.
How to Help
To sign the petition to support Zack’s law, log on to www.tinyurl.com/zackslaw.