The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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City Council, April 9

City seeks change in State law in wake of shooting
Why are state legislators so tardy?
Marc Knapp

Predictably, the shooting of Police Officer Cory Goldstein was the subject to much discussion at last night’s Council meeting. Viewers will recall that the officer was shot while attempting to make an arrest. The shooter had a criminal record and was free on bond. Fortunately, an armored vest stopped an otherwise certain fatal bullet and the officer is now recovering. But the question remains and loudly asked by the Mayor, the Police Chief, the press and citizens, how can such a miscreant be allowed to remain free when he has such a record. Why does the law allow it?

Council voted to send a resolution to Columbia asking that lawmakers act to pass two bills. Bill H.3051 will require that a Circuit Court Judge preside over a bond hearing for persons who commit violent crimes whilst released on bond awaiting trial for a previous crime. The Judge will be required to impose a mandatory 5 year sentence on top of the penalty for the previous offence. Bill H.3052 creates graduated penalties for subsequent offences relating to the unlawful carrying, delivery or sales of handguns.

The Mayor and Chief Mullen spoke passionately about the issue. Mayor Riley noted the change in the nature of crime over the years and the relationship to drugs. A criminal released on bond say 50 years ago did not have the means to post large bonds. But drugs had funneled money to criminals and bonding was no longer an obstacle.

All Council members supported the resolution and the Mayor and Police Chief urged everybody to contact their State representatives to pass the bills. The Mayor also noted that the City had the support of Speaker Harrell and many of the local representatives and senators. But what was strange to us was the measure of desperation in the pleas by the Mayor and Police Chief. The situation presently that allows criminals released on bond to remain free and commit second and third offences was unbelievable. What was wrong with our law makers? How could they condone this?

Council members Seekings asked Police Chief Mullen directly and in wonderment, who could oppose such a change? He did not get a very full answer. Chief Mullen suggested that the plate of the lawmakers was full and that the Bills were not considered high priority. Indeed, the issue was seen to be Charleston specific. The Mayor later commented that this was strange as Charleston’s crime rate was below many other municipalities in the state. The Chief said that some legislators saw legal issues as to whether a judgment could be made on an individual before he was tried. The Chief didn’t say it, but presumably it was better in the eyes of these legislators to continue bonding such miscreants rather that curb their activities and infringe so-called constitutional rights.

Nobody said it during the Council meeting. But a few Council members suggested privately that some lawmakers were lawyers and may have a vested interest in maintaining the present system. We don’t pretend to understand the process but presently magistrates conduct bond hearings and set bond amounts. The power of magistrates is limited which is why the City resolution seeks to move the hearings to the level of the Circuit Court.

The City has been urging lawmakers in Columbia to tighten sentencing and bonding laws for some years. Will the resolutions to be sent by the City make a difference? Maybe, but in the view of one Council member, probably not this year.

Citizen Participation brought out a lot of residents of Elliottborough and Cannonborough. They all applauded the City’s plan to change the zoning of a number of properties in the boroughs from General Business (GB) to Limited Business (LB). The change also was to be applied to properties on the Eastside and nearby. The principal effect of this change will be to limit business hours to 11 pm, opposed to 2 am presently. The change was sought because many of these properties are within or abut residential areas. The spread of bars and restaurants into these areas and the concomitant late night closing was impacting the peace of the neighborhoods.

Council voted unanimously in support of the change but Council member Alexander wondered whether there would be some consequence. The down zoning may represent a loss of value for property owners and stimulate legal action against the City, he suggested. Staff did not seem concerned but in answer to a question from the Councilmember, Planning, Preservation and Sustainability Director Keene noted that a “handful” of business would continue to operate under the GB conditions. This un-conforming use would cease on the sale of the property.

Despite the prominent coverage given to the issue in the Post and Courier, Council took no action to change cab charge rates in the City. The $5 flat charge for passengers traveling within the Peninsula continues.

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