Crime & Courts

Prosecutors: Let’s study how others across U.S. investigate cop crimes

South Carolina’s solicitors have voted to create a task force to study how prosecutors nationwide investigate and prosecute cases in which a law enforcement officer is suspected of a crime.

S.C. Commission on Prosecution Coordination chairman Duffie Stone said Wednesday prosecutors have been wanting to know the ways each of the state’s solicitors and their counterparts nationwide investigate police-related crime.

Ten members serve on the prosecution commission, a state agency which includes solicitors, lawmakers and law enforcement chiefs. The commission provides the Legislature and other solicitors with resources and it helps coordinate with other law enforcement agencies.

Stone, who serves on the National District Attorneys Association, said he’s talked with several prosecutors across the country and has compiled at least six different ways they handle cases. Among the differing approaches are forwarding cases to their attorney general immediately; bringing in special prosecutors; or having a stable of rotating prosecutors who tackle cases in which an officer is the suspect.

“I think that it’s important for everybody to know what the process is more than just dealing with the individual cases,” Stone said. “It’s been an ongoing conversation concerning how we deal with conflicts and how we deal with issues.”

Among several goals, the task force would address is whether there should be a statewide standard approach to investigating any case in which an officer is the suspect, not just officer-involved shootings. Some parameters would help prevent any appearance of impropriety and would help solicitors do their jobs, said House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, R-York.

“The truth may be that any allegations against law enforcement in my circuit, if I was the solicitor, maybe it needs to be prosecuted by someone else just out of an abundance of caution and to avoid any sense of impropriety,” said Pope, who served as 16th Circuit Solicitor for 13 years.

Commission members agreed to create four task force subgroups to tackle types of bills legislators are filing involving police and crime; the current process of how solicitors in South Carolina and nationwide investigate cases; potential conflicts and liability solicitors face when investigating cases in which a law enforcement officer is the suspect; and how prosecutors handle the cases, such as how soon prosecutors should become involved in criminal allegations against law enforcement officers.

Department of Public Safety Director Leroy Smith favors the task force proposal, adding that any time a process can eliminate a potential conflict of interest is good. DPS refers potential crimes to SLED, he said.

“I think it’s always good to have an outside agency to look at those criminal allegations,” Smith said. “Anything that can be considered criminal in nature ... officer-involved shootings, I think those need to be deferred.”

The commission is expected to meet in September again to provide an update, so that it can provide recommendations during its November meeting.

Cynthia Roldán: 803-771-8311, @CynthiaRoldan