Monday, March 20, 2017

Attorneys jockey over evidence as the federal trial of Michael Slager nears

Counting the Days

Posted by Dustin Waters on Mon, Mar 20, 2017 at 3:00 PM

The federal trial of Michael Slager is scheduled to begin May 15, while the the former officer's state retrial is set to begin in August - GRACE BEAHM/POST AND COURIER
  • Grace Beahm/Post and Courier
  • The federal trial of Michael Slager is scheduled to begin May 15, while the the former officer's state retrial is set to begin in August
On the morning of May 9, in a Columbia courthouse, it will begin again. Individuals from all over the state will be sworn in and questioned as to why they can or cannot serve on the jury tasked with determining the fate of Michael Slager. While a state jury was unable to arrive at a unanimous decision regarding the guilt or innocence of the former North Charleston police officer last December, perhaps 12 new arbiters culled from throughout South Carolina can provide some form of resolution.

In a courtroom full of green ties, lead defense attorney Andy Savage began last week’s St. Patrick’s Day hearing by wishing a sardonic “top ‘O the morning” to U.S. District Judge David Norton. Drawing a polite chuckle from those seated in the courtroom, Norton responded by saying it was better to have the attorneys in the courtroom on a holiday than the following morning. It was just after Thanksgiving last year that Slager took the stand during his state murder trial to provide his account of the shooting of Walter Scott. Fleeing from a traffic stop for a non-functioning taillight, Scott was shot five times in the back by Slager, who claimed that he feared for his life after Scott seized control of his Taser. Scott would draw his last breaths the day before Easter, lying facedown in an empty trailer park as ants swarmed his body.

Since 2003, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has maintained a count of potential deaths that occur during arrests by a state or local law enforcement agency in the United States. Between June 2015 and March 2016, that number totaled almost 1,400 deaths across the country. Breaking down the more than 400 arrest-related deaths identified in the three months following Scott’s death, the agency found that 64 percent were deemed homicides, which includes justifiable homicide by law enforcement officers, with 18 percent resulting from suicides and 11 percent deemed as accidents. Of those 425 deaths taking place during June, July, and August 2015, seven occurred in South Carolina. A 2016 investigation by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review found that over the previous 10 years federal prosecutors only pursued charges in 4 percent of cases where law enforcement officers faced allegations of civil rights violations.

Finally laying to rest any uncertainty regarding the Justice Department’s efforts to pursue a conviction against Slager under the new presidential administration, federal attorneys assured Judge Norton last week that two administrations fully support the prosecution and intend to go forward with the case. During the Obama administration, 25 investigations into police departments were opened by the Justice Department, but current Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicated earlier this year that the Department of Justice would “pull back” on suing law enforcement agencies for civil rights violations. While Slager’s state trial focused on the charges of murder or voluntary manslaughter, the former officer’s federal trial stems from an indictment alleging deprivation of rights under the color of law, use of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, and obstruction of justice. Slager faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Much like the previous state trial, Slager’s attorneys again attempted to have eyewitness video of Scott’s shooting excluded from evidence, arguing that the recording was incomplete and the only perspective jurors should consider is that of the officer. Prosecutors opposed the defense’s motion to exclude the video, saying that the video not only shows that Slager shot an unarmed man, but also refutes statements he made shortly after the shooting when he claimed to have provided CPR to Scott. Reviewing the cellphone video, the circumstances of the struggle that occurred immediately before the shooting remain unclear. Judge Norton denied requests from the defense to exclude the video.

With Slager’s federal trial set to begin May 15 in a Charleston courthouse directly across the street from where his mistrial was declared, several key issues related to the case remain unresolved. A future hearing has been scheduled to examine evidence surrounding statements that Slager made to SLED investigators just days after the shooting before learning of the existence of the eyewitness video. Slager provided his account of the shooting to investigators on April 7, 2015, while sitting in the office of his former attorney, David Aylor. Attorneys for the defense now ask that these statements be excluded from the trial on the grounds that SLED agents failed to inform Slager’s attorney about the existence of the video.

“They have the right to mislead Slager, but not the lawyer he had been told to rely on,” Savage told Judge Norton last week.

Prosecutors responded by saying that Slager’s interview with investigators was voluntary and had he been informed about the existence of the video at that time, he would have either refused to provide a statement or “lied differently.”

During a meeting shortly following this initial round of questioning, Slager and his former attorney were shown the video of the shooting. According to Slager’s current legal counsel, Aylor then told Slager that he would no longer represent the officer. As a part of their request to exclude the SLED interview with Slager from evidence in the federal trial, the former officer’s attorneys filed copies of email exchanges that took place between Savage and Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, as well as Aylor.

In an email exchange from October, Wilson, the lead prosecutor in Slager’s state trial, wrote that SLED agents may have been “intentionally vague and perhaps misleading” when initially asked about the case by Aylor, adding, “They told Aylor that his client needed to tell the truth.”

In response to Wilson’s message, Aylor wrote to Slager’s current attorneys, “Peterson wasn’t vague, she lied.”

This matter along with several other undecided issues are set to be discussed during an upcoming hearing scheduled for April 4, 2017 — two years to the day since Walter Scott was killed.

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S.C. lawmaker takes a stand against online ticket scalpers

That’s the ticket

Posted by Dustin Waters on Mon, Mar 20, 2017 at 2:44 PM

FLICKR USER ANTONY GRIFFITHS
  • flickr user antony griffiths
A new bill introduced in the South Carolina Senate aims to make online ticket scalping a thing of the past.

Sen. Margie Bright Matthews represents parts of Allendale, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper Counties. - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • Sen. Margie Bright Matthews represents parts of Allendale, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper Counties.
All too often, honest fans hoping to purchase tickets online find that bots have snatched up every available seat within seconds of tickets going on sale. Those persistent enough can still usually find a spare ticket online, but only if they are willing to pay several times the original price. While it has long been illegal to sell tickets well above their original price person to person, that state law has never extended to online sales. State Sen. Margie Bright Matthews is hoping to change that.

Under Matthews’ new bill referred to the state Judiciary Committee last week, anyone caught selling tickets online for more than $1 above the original price would be guilty of a misdemeanor and face a fine of $100 or 30 days in jail for each offense.

The new bill comes just months after President Barack Obama signed into law the Better Online Ticket Sales Act, or the BOTS Act of 2016, which made it illegal to circumvent security or control measures used by online ticket sellers to ensure equitable consumer access to event tickets.

Earlier this year, the City Paper looked at how the Charleston Music Hall combats online ticket scalping. While venue owners have a few tricks up their sleeves when it comes to dealing with internet scalpers, the lack of any laws preventing scalpers from selling tickets at greatly inflated prices leaves vendors with little they can do to protect customers.

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Columbia Fireflies outfielder Tim Tebow's first game against the RiverDogs at the Joe will be June 16

Tebow's previous performance in Columbia: 5 rushing, 2 passing TDs

Posted by Sam Spence on Mon, Mar 20, 2017 at 2:02 PM

Tim Tebow, the beloved and hated former NFL quarterback, TV commentator, Heisman Trophy winner, and two-time NCAA national champion who now plays minor league baseball for the Mets organization, will suit up for the Columbia Fireflies this spring. The team announced the assignment today.

As an NFL quarterback, Tebow played for the Denver Broncos and New York Jets - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • As an NFL quarterback, Tebow played for the Denver Broncos and New York Jets
If he plays well enough to remain on the everyday squad until June and stays healthy, the ex-Gators quarterback will take the field at The Joe in Charleston for the first time on June 16. (The RiverDogs will travel to Columbia twice before that date.)

Since restarting his professional athletic career on the diamond, Tebow has worked a .222 batting average in Spring Training play over eight games, about middle of the pack compared to his teammates. Mets GM Sandy Alderson told Newsday that Tebow may at times be overmatched in South Atlantic League play, but said that "what he’s done in spring training has convinced us that this is where he should go. And he’s prepared for it."

Tim Tebow hasn't played baseball since high school, but if his previous athletic performances in Columbia are any indication, he should be right at home. When Tebow was in uniform in Columbia back in 2007 as the University of Florida's star quarterback, he ran for a school record five touchdowns and threw for two more, defeating USC 51-31. Tebow never lost to the Gamecocks while at Florida.

(It should also be noted that the Fireflies predicted Tebow's stint in Columbia back in August of last year!)


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USC beat Duke. Here's how the upset appeared in S.C. and N.C. newspapers

"One 'Sweet' Feat"

Posted by Sam Spence on Mon, Mar 20, 2017 at 12:54 PM

It wasn't a dream or an illusion. The USC Gamecocks beat the Duke Blue Devils yesterday in the NCAA tournament Sunday night to advance to the Sweet Sixteen of the Big Dance.

The Gamecocks had been eliminated in the third round of the SEC tournament a few days earlier, scoring just 53 points in a loss to Alabama. In the second half of Sunday's game, 7th-seed S.C., led by SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell, scored 65 points to knock off second-seeded Duke. The W is a landmark win for Coach Frank Martin, who is in his fifth season at USC.

The game wrapped up after 11 p.m. last night, so some newspapers didn't have the win front-and-center for today's Newseum.org front pages, but a few did.

Here's how they looked:

Greenville News

NEWSEUM.ORG
  • Newseum.org

Post and Courier

NEWSEUM.ORG
  • Newseum.org

The State

NEWSEUM.ORG
  • Newseum.org

Raleigh News & Observer

NEWSEUM.ORG
  • Newseum.org

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The Agenda: Upstate pols prepping for societal collapse; Columbia firm appears in ethics inquiry; Graham and committee questioning Gorsuch

"John Birch Society meets prepper-culture"

Posted by Sam Spence on Mon, Mar 20, 2017 at 12:22 PM

Judge Neil Gorsuch is answering questions for members of the U.S. Senate today - C-SPAN
  • C-Span
  • Judge Neil Gorsuch is answering questions for members of the U.S. Senate today

Must read from new P&C political reporter Andrew Brown: "Two South Carolina lawmakers prepping survivalist communities to 'restore the fabric of America'"

The P&C reports on the swirl of political money and loose ethics laws that have figured large within an ongoing S.C. ethics investigation of the state legislature, a series of allegations that could take the shine off state Republicans which dominate the General Assembly. One consulting firm that has been named in indictments of S.C. Sen. John Courson last week and S.C. Rep. Jim Merrill is a business led by state legislator Richard Quinn. Gov. Henry McMaster, a Quinn client, has expressed support for the politico and his office says he's received no "kickbacks," as The State put it. Source: P&C, The State

Judge Neil Gorsuch's confirmation hearing is underway right now before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will likely feature questioning from U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham. Source: NYT, C-Span

Jim DeMint, the former U.S. senator who resigned to lead the Heritage Foundation, said on CNN's State of the Union that "not much would surprise" him when asked if President Barack Obama committed an impeachable offense in illegally wiretapping Trump Tower. The DeMint-led group has been an especially influential force over crafting President Donald Trump's initial White House budget. Source: P&C, Politico

OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, also a former S.C. lawmaker, discussing Republican efforts to replace Obamacare on 'Face the Nation' yesterday, threw out the premise of the Affordable Care Act's compulsory 'mandate' requiring all Americans to buy health insurance. Mulvaney: ""The only way to get truly universal care is to throw people in jail if they don't have it. And we are not going to do that." Source: The Hill

S.C. native

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