CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - It’s been more than two months since two mental health patients, Nicolette Green and Wendy Newton, drowned in the back of an Horry County Sheriff’s Office transport van.
Authorities said the two deputies in the van - both of whom got out alive - drove around a barricade on Highway 76 in Nichols and into floodwaters.
The next step in the investigation is for Marion County Solicitor Ed Clements to determine whether criminal charges will be fired.
In order to get an idea of what Clements will have to do in order to make that determination, WMBF News sat down with Horry County Solicitor Jimmy Richardson.
Richardson is not involved in the case, but he provided insight into what a solicitor must do in order to determine whether criminal charges are filed in similar cases.
According to Richardson, in most cases, a crime is committed and a person is arrested and charged as soon as possible. However, he said in officer-involved incidents like the drownings, the protocol is different.
Richardson said the State Law Enforcement Division investigates officer-involved incidents and then sends their findings to a solicitor for them to determine criminal charges.
"You would go element by element and say, 'How could I prove this? Is there a witness for this particular conduct?' That's element one,” Richardson said. “'Did it occur in Marion County?' That's element two. And you would go through those, and if all of those were filled out, then you would make a determination probably to charge."
Richardson said most SLED reports are extensive.
“It’ll be more than just written documents,” Richardson said. “There’ll be videos, there’ll be probably reenactments, a disc of photographs, and you go through all of that.”
Richardson said that process usually doesn’t take too long.
“We’ve usually reviewed it and made a determination within two days,” he said. “It doesn’t take an awful long time.”
While Richardson isn’t involved in the case, he did make some guesses as to what charges could be filed based on what he does know about it.
He said a murder charge is unlikely because malice aforethought has to be able to be proven, and based on what he knows about the case, he doesn’t believe the deputies intentionally tried to kill Green and Newton.
“More along the lines I’m guessing of something where it’s negligence or gross negligence,” Richardson said. “Probably some charges like that. Maybe that catch-all. which is misconduct.”
Those charges usually have sentences of 0 to 5 years or 0 to 10 years, if convicted.
Richardson added there won’t be special treatment just because the men involved are in law enforcement.
“Nobody gets a pass,” he said. “We are all bound by the same law, and if we violate it, then we’ll have to suffer the consequences of it.”
Richardson added he’s known Clements for many years, and he’s confident he’ll do the right thing after reviewing the case.