The man accused Monday of damaging nearly 200 gravesites, including those of veterans, at a Columbia cemetery had been charged with vandalizing a Hopkins church cemetery in 2015, according to law enforcement records.
Justin Scott Beach, 24, is charged most recently with obliterating, vandalizing or desecrating a burial ground just before Independence Day, according to the Columbia Police Department.
Police say Beach damaged dozens of graves at Greenlawn Memorial Park late Saturday and early Sunday by pulling flowers from their vases and throwing them on the ground or shredding them and knocking over vases. Some American flags marking the graves of veterans were ripped from their sticks, shredded or strewn across the cemetery.
Beach faces up to 10 years in prison, if convicted.
Richland County deputies arrested Beach on similar charges on June 30, 2015, in connection with vandalizing Ladson’s Chapel Baptist Church on Cabin Creek Road in Hopkins, according to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.
At the church, deputies found grave markers and statues that were damaged and floral arrangements that had been torn up, said Lt. Curtis Wilson, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman. Details of the desecration or the outcome of the case were not available Monday. But Wilson said damage was estimated at around $25,000.
Beach was indicted on the felony charge in April 2016, according to Richland County court records.
The charge did not show up on Beach’s criminal background check provided by the State Law Enforcement Division, which indicated showed only two prior arrests in Beaufort County in 2009 and 2010. But sheriff’s records corroborated that offense.
Beach remained in the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center Monday under $25,000 surety bond in the latest vandalism.
American flags that were vandalized and strewn around Greenlawn cemetery are to be honored and disposed of properly by being cremated with military veterans.
Some well-meaning residents cleaning up the park Sunday threw the damaged flags in the trash, general manager Suzanne Elkins said Monday. Park staff collected the flags to be properly disposed according to United States law.
“It’s really important,” she said of disposing of American flags with honor. “We take old and tattered American flags all throughout the year. When a veteran is cremated, we cover his cremation container with a flag so it’s burned appropriately with them.”
An American flag that can no longer be used for display because of its condition “should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning,” according to the U.S. flag code.
Elkins said the veteran’s family receives a certificate with the veteran’s cremated remains stating that their loved one and the flag were cremated with honor.
“We’ll probably have a special ceremony for all of these,” she said of the 100 or so damaged flags. “If not, they’ll be with each individual veteran that’s cremated over the next year or so.”