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Lies led to wrongful conviction, SC court says. 19-year veteran cop loses his badge

A 19-year veteran of the Horry County Police Department was fired Friday after attorneys suing the force over a wrongful conviction pointed out the officer, who lied to obtain a warrant in that case nine years ago, had never been “disciplined or reprimanded.”

The state’s highest court ruled that former Officer Donald Kent “knowingly and intentionally made false statements in the search-warrant affidavit.”

The warrant led to a mobile home search and police found more than 375 grams of cocaine, 53 grams of marijuana, ecstasy pills and dozens of other items, along with mail addressed to Alex Robinson in 2008.

Robinson wasn’t present during the raid and claimed to have moved out long before it occurred, but was later arrested and convicted of trafficking cocaine.

“Alex Robinson spent nearly six years in prison for a crime he did not commit,” Robinson’s attorneys noted in a motion to speed up the case last month. “Sentenced to 25 years behind bars, he was confined at ‘level three’ facilities otherwise reserved for some of South Carolina’s most violent offenders.”

In the prisons, Robinson witnessed assaults and was assaulted himself, his attorneys contend.

He was released in March 2016 when the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned his conviction.

Kent joined the Horry County Police Department on Aug. 31, 1998 and became a detective three years later. He rose up through the ranks to sergeant, according to court records.

A disciplinary report citing Kent’s termination, said that the courts determined Kent “misrepresented the truth” and that his action violated departmental policy – more than a year after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

An informant, a middle man and ‘junk mail’

“(A) confidential and reliable informant working for the Horry County Police Department purchased a quantity of off-white powdery substance represented as being cocaine and field testing positive for cocaine attributes from the occupants of the house identified as 1251 Stoneybrook Dr. in Conway,” Kent noted in his affidavit for a search warrant.

Kent said the informant made “continuous purchases of illegal drugs” from the home, but attorneys have since fought that claim.

“Having made what were purported to be several ‘undercover buys’ of drugs by a so-called ‘confidential and reliable informant’ on Stoneybrook Drive, police obtained a search warrant for the mobile home,” Robinson’s attorneys argued. But “the ‘confidential and reliable informant’ had not, in fact, purchased any drugs directly from the mobile home. She had acquired them from a drug dealer named ‘Chris’ who brought them to her while she was sitting in her car.”

Thirty-two-year-old Christopher Easton Oliver, who was also convicted of trafficking cocaine in the case, had told the informant that he knew where to buy cocaine, according to court records.

“Based on his representations the ‘informant’ gave Chris money and, following his directions, drove him to buy the drugs,” Robinson’s attorneys said. “As instructed, she parked down the street from where he said he could buy them. Chris then exited the car. The informant watched him walk away, only to return a short time later to hand drugs to her. In the meantime she had sat in the car and listened to music on the radio.”

Police conducted the raid in the early morning hours of Sept. 25, 2008, first knocking and then breaking the door down to find three people in beds inside the trailer, according to court records. Robinson wasn’t there.

Agents seized drugs, a gun, digital scales and other drug paraphernalia from the home and noticed photos of Robinson and “junk mail” addressed to him in rooms of the trailer.

Robinson’s attorneys allege that Robinson was not living at the trailer at the time the home was searched.

His name was still on the lease, however, and court documents state he continued to pay for the utilities to the home.

“His older half-brother, the brother’s girlfriend and a young lady with whom Alex had an on-and-off relationship (and who was pregnant at the time) occupied the mobile home, all while the light bill remained in Alex’s name,” Robinson’s attorneys said in court records. “These third parties were staying in the mobile home... Alex lived elsewhere.”

The three were arrested and police attempted to arrest Robinson when he came to bail his “on-and-off” again girlfriend out of jail.

Robinson fled the jail and led officers on a high-speed chase through the county before his car crashed into a median on U.S. Highway 501, where police say he ditched the car and fled on foot. He was apprehended after a brief foot chase, according to an HCPD investigation report.

Robinson was convicted at a trial in 2011. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Robinson fought the conviction through the appellate process and his verdict was overturned by the State Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision.

Robinson is suing Kent and HCPD, arguing his civil and constitutional rights were violated when Kent lied in the affidavit.

That case still pending.

Emily Weaver: 843-444-1722, @TSNEmily