Citizens: Judicial system is failing

By Bobby Bryant, Editor

Darlington County Council has no control over the criminal-justice system, but four residents stood before council last week to vent their anger and frustration over local crime and, especially, bonds that are set low enough for suspects to be out of jail in hours or days. “I call it catch-and-release,” said Chanda Pate, who said her daughter was badly injured recently in a felony DUI crash. “It’s kind of like fishing. You catch one and it ain’t big enough, and according to what it is, you turn it loose. That’s the same way here.” Another speaker, Alan Fletcher, said: “Something needs to happen in Darlington County. … They get in (jail), and time they get in, they’re out.” “The catch-and-release program ain’t working anymore,” said a third speaker, Bryan Atkinson. Most of the speakers’ anger during their July 12 appearances before council seemed directed not at the law-enforcement officers who arrest criminal suspects, but the judges and magistrates who set their bond after they’re booked into the county jail. “Our county has really gone pretty bad, in the way of the thieves, the way they’re getting in, the way they’re getting out,” said Fletcher, owner of Fletcher’s Auto Sales in Hartsville. “Some of them even know what (bond) they’re going to get before they get there.” Fletcher added: “Everybody in the county wants to say, ‘Oh, it’s the Sheriff’s Department, it’s the Sheriff’s Department.’ It’s not the Sheriff’s Department. The (judges and magistrates) seem to let people out of jail on just about anything. I personally had a really good friend that …” He choked off. “Take your time,” a councilman told him. “ … That got murdered here,” Fletcher continued. “(The suspect) violated his bond, they got him back in jail, but we had to raise all kind of stink to get him back in jail. He had been out exactly eight to 10 hours before he committed that murder. “Out of jail, with charges of assault on a police officer. He’s got a rap sheet a mile long. When do we ever draw the line in the sand and say, ‘That’s enough’? We need to say that. When do you do it?” Pate said that the man who hit her daughter’s car head-on would not have been charged with felony DUI if she and friends hadn’t “pushed it.” Pate praised Darlington County Sheriff James Hudson as “the best man I know,” but said some in law enforcement are lazy – “not all of them, but some of them.” “They charged this guy the first time with a DUI,” Pate said. “If we hadn’t pushed it, it would have been a DUI, not a felony (DUI). … Something’s wrong with the system. Either the judges, the magistrates, the solicitor’s office, the senator, or somebody. … I ’bout lost my daughter to a felony repeat offender, who got out (on bond), and is out there now, probably doing the same dadgum things. … I will be at every court appearance, and I’m pushing for him to have some thinking time … in prison.” Atkinson told council he had lived in Darlington County all his life. “I’ve been on both sides of the fence. … I know what it feels like to grow up ‘without’ and to ‘get’ whichever way I could … But I also know now, for the last 30 years, what it feels like to own something that I worked for. And I don’t want anyone to come take it.” A fourth speaker, Brady Hill, focused his comments on one incident. He said that someone stole two trailers from him, and that he’s been in contact with the thief, who argues they were “abandoned.” Hill said he has been pushing for law-enforcement action for a month. “There’s a lot of other stuff going on in the county, but this is my thing.” Later in the meeting, council members reacted to the residents’ comments. Several said they empathized with the residents even though County Council is powerless over the judicial system. Councilman David Coker of Hartsville said he “totally agrees” on the “catch-and-release” situation. “It’s a problem. … I just want them to know I feel for them. I feel for the whole county. It’s a scary time.”

Author: Stephan Drew

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