Repeat offenders 'target' of Senate bill, local officials

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Local officials are demanding change for a safer community. Days removed from an officer-involved shooting in West Ashley, Charleston's Chief of Police and Mayor challenged lawmakers to fix a system they say is broken.

After one of the city's officer's was shot three times by a man labeled a repeat offender, Mayor Joe Riley and Charleston police chief Greg Mullen passed along a message that is loud and clear.

"He should not have gotten out of jail and his bond should have been revoked," said Mullen. "If that happened, Cory Goldstein would not have been shot Saturday night."

Mullen is referring to Saturday night's shootout on Savannah Highway where he says officer Cory Goldstein went after a suspect who refused to stop.

Police said 26-year-old Mark Lorenzo Blake Jr. jumped from his car on Sam Rittenberg Blvd. and took off on foot with Goldstein chasing behind him. Mullen says Blake turned around and shot his officer three times, one of those bullets wedged into his bullet proof vest just above his heart.

Reports say Goldstein returned fire and Blake suffered two gunshot wounds as well. Blake remains in the hospital.

The suspect had been released from the Charleston County Detention Center earlier this year after he was arrested on heroin trafficking charges in late February. Mullen said Blake was already out on bond from 2012 drug-related charges when he was arrested in February.

"We've got to do something to make sure violent habitual criminals are not out on our streets," said Mayor Joe Riley. "The criminal justice system is broken."

That something the Mayor is looking for seems to be in the works.

Senator Robert Ford introduced Senate Bill 19 in early January 2013. It's a bill that aims to close the revolving door on repeat offenders.

The bill would amend current laws surround bond and the revocation of bond under certain circumstances.

The meat of the bill states,

If a person is convicted of committing or attempting to commit a subsequent general sessions court offense while on release on bond, the person must be imprisoned for a mandatory minimum of five years, no part of which may be suspended nor probation granted, in addition to the penalty provided for the principal offense. This five year sentence must be served consecutively.

"The faster we can get these kind of hoodlums in jail for a long time the safer this community is," said Mayor Riley, who publicly asked legislators to pass the bill by the end of 2013.

As the bill remains in limbo on the state level, on a local level bond judges are juggling a handful of factors when they are faced with setting bond for repeat offenders.

Associate Chief Magistrate James Gosnell Jr. sees 500 to 1,200 cases a month and admits many of the people sitting across from him in court have been there before.

"We're looking at a majority of the people being repeat offenders of something," said Gosnell.

The Judge presides over preliminary hearings, bond modifications and reconsideration's in Charleston County.

"Setting a fair bond is what we are charged to do," said Gosnell, but in many cases he says repeat offenders find their ways back onto the streets.

"In the past we have had that happen," said Gosnell. "The judge felt a significant bond was set and days later someone goes out and gets themselves re-arrested."

He says bond judges in the state are like a horses with blinders on. He says they are only allowed to make a decision based on what they have in front of them.

He says everyone that moves through the court system is innocent until proven guilty but those he sees on a regular basis deserve to have the book thrown at them.

"If you've been charged with a violent crime in the past and you are out on bond and you go out and get yourself re-arrested on another violent crime the bond needs to be significant," said Gosnell. "You are a danger to yourself and the community."

Since Mark Blake Jr's case will come across his desk, Gosnell couldn't comment on what his punishment should be, but Chief Deputy Solicitor Bruce Durant can.

"There's no doubt in Mr. Blake's case that he hasn't been a choir boy," said Durant, who works in Charleston County.

In five years from 2004-2009, Blake has gotten five of seven drug and firearm charges dismissed. The two other charges for unlawful carrying of a pistol and trafficking cocaine could have put him behind bars for more than three years. Instead, Blake has only had to serve two years total of probation.

"You never know when somebody may go off the deep end and do something like that," says Durant. "We try to guard against that the best we can."

The solicitor says it's impossible to predict what a person is going to do. He says it would have been hard to put a higher bond on Blake when he was arrested in 2012 because he didn't have a violent past.

Drug charges are considered non-violent charges.

However, Blake was capable of violence according to Chief Mullen. The Chief of police says he won't stop pushing lawmakers and the community until changes are made.

"Cory Goldstein stayed in the fight Saturday night and my commitment for him is to stay in the fight on changing the rules," said Mullen.

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