Columbia police are investigating a series of property crimes and vandalism involving a high-powered BB gun in the University Hill neighborhood over the past two weeks.
The State newspaper learned of the crimes after asking for any incident reports that might involve five students recently suspended from the University of South Carolina’s men’s basketball team.
Police would not directly say the students were being investigated for the string of property crimes. They did provide three incident reports detailing those crimes when the students were mentioned by name.
No suspect had been charged as of late Wednesday, but the police department announced two arrests early Thursday.
However, a Columbia police news release early Thursday said Eric Cobb has been charged with malicious injury to private property and third-degre assault and battery. Jamall Gregory is charged with one count of malicious injury to real property and three counts of malicious injury to personal property.
According to one report, on March 7, one victim told police a group of males in a silver Honda sedan heckled him while he was at the intersection of Blossom and Harden streets near Five Points. As the victim drove away, one member of the group shot his vehicle with a BB gun, a police report said.
On March 9, officers responded to three victims in the University Hill neighborhood, located between the university’s main campus and the Five Points entertainment district. One victim showed police damage that appeared to have been caused by a “BB pellet” striking just below the driver’s-side rear window of his vehicle, according to the incident report. The two other victims’ vehicles had their rear windows broken out.
“The Columbia Police Department continues to investigate allegations of property crimes while consulting with the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office,” spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons said.
USC coach Frank Martin announced the indefinite suspensions of sophomore Marcus Stroman, redshirt freshman TeMarcus Blanton and freshmen Chris Silva, Cobb and Gregory for “a conduct issue” 90 minutes before the Gamecocks began NIT play on Tuesday. Martin offered no details but said that players need to understand that playing basketball is a privilege, not a right.
Asked if the five would be part of the program going forward, Martin replied, “I have no idea.”
USC Athletics Director Ray Tanner offered no additional details.
“There’s nothing more to comment on at this time,” Tanner said. “As Coach Martin said in the release, it’s an indefinite suspension.”
Sources close to the program and in one online report stated that the five were suspended due an incident involving a BB gun, which matches incident reports from the police department.
University Hill residents for months have complained about vandalism in their neighborhood. Those concerns have escalated in the past two weeks with a series of broken car windows.
Kathryn Fenner, vice president of the University Hill Neighborhood Association, said a Columbia police officer recently told neighbors the perpetrators were riding in a car and shooting with a high-powered BB gun.
Fenner said the officer told her the gun was equipped with a CO2 canister to make it more powerful. “This can do some real damage,” she said.
The back windshield of Fenner’s 1999 Jetta was shattered two weeks ago, and two other nearby cars were damaged the same night, she said.
University Hill resident Jordan Taylor, 23, said a back window of her car was shattered two weeks ago while it was parked on Laurens Street.
But security camera footage of the car that night shows no one close to the car, Taylor said. She said she had guessed someone threw an object at the window from a distance.
“The money wasn’t the issue,” Taylor said. “It’s the inconvenience.”
Officers told neighbors that the damage from the incidents was worth $12,000, though not all of that was in the University Hill neighborhood, Fenner said. The shattered windshield cost her $300, she said.
Fenner said officers on Monday indicated they had identified the perpetrators, but they provided few details.
Deputy Chief Melron Kelly on Wednesday said he could not identify suspects while the cases remain open.
“We can’t confirm (anyone’s identity),” Kelly said. “If some arrests were made or someone was charged with something, we could.”
Staff writer David Cloninger contributed.