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Chas. Police Chief, Solicitor discuss concerns with bonds given in violent cases

Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 4:33 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 12, 2021 at 8:35 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - In reaction to our recent investigation that showed most murder suspects are given bond in Charleston County, Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds wanted to share his experiences and opinions of the bond system.

“It’s not really a difficult concept. If someone is a threat to the community, they should be in jail,” he told Live 5′s Carter Coyle.

Reynolds has been especially vocal lately and says he is fed up with violence. “In some cases, we have over 50 shell cases at some of these shootings,” he said.

An analysis of court records found that 67 percent of people charged with murder in 2018 were granted bond. That number jumped to 84 percent in 2019, with roughly half of murder suspects being given bond the following year.

Reynolds said, “It’s a big concern to me. I am not here to play the blame game. This is a shared responsibility. Every one of us has a responsibility in this- the community, the police, the judges, the solicitor. We’re all in this together.”

He worries about what he calls a relatively small number of violent, repeat offenders who keep getting out. “And we know who they are. They have lengthy histories. They don’t care about anybody but themselves, their drug trade, their gangs... they won’t even think twice to shoot somebody as to look at them. "

It’s not just murder cases that trouble him, he said, but bonds for other shootings and violent crimes.

“It’s not a surprise,” South Carolina Victim Assistance Network legal director Sarah Ford told us last month. “It should be shocking to me but it’s not. The number of defendants who are charged with violent crimes, given a bond, re-offend, [and] given a bond again? It’s astronomical.”

In August 2020, 36-year-old Aubrey Tucker was charged with killing Ridgeville resident Anthony Myers in North Charleston. Just two months later, he was released on a $200,000 bond.

Last month, while still out on bond, Tucker was charged with another murder. Berkeley County deputies alleged that Tucker killed a mother of four named Jessica Ancrum in the Goose Creek area before going on the run for two days and ending up in Columbia.

Attorneys we talked to explained defendants have a constitutional right to bond and that bonds are not supposed to be used as punishment.

Defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Judges can order restrictions to include GPS monitoring if they are released on bond while awaiting trial.

Judges must consider two major factors before denying someone’s right to bond: Is he or she a flight risk? And is he or she a danger to the community?

Reynolds contends that, in the case of repeat violent offenders, the answer to that second question is unequivocally, “Yes.”

It’s beyond frustrating for investigators, he said. “When we make these arrests, these offenders who are victimizing our communities who are creating havoc in our communities are shooting up our communities need to go to jail. And they need to stay there. That’s where they belong... And I’ll tell you, our communities are tired of it. I’m tired of it.”

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson says the policy in her office is that if someone out on bond for a violent crime commits another offense, they’ll move to revoke that bond and get them back in jail.

Similarly, if someone is on bond for a non-violent offense but commits a violent offense, “We’ll move to revoke,” she said.

“But we have dozens of bond revocations just sitting there pending,” Wilson said.

She confirmed that bond revocation hearings have been few and far between.

“A bond revocation is something we pursue to keep the community safe,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to get those scheduled like we’d like to have them scheduled. That’s a court issue. Obviously COVID has had some impact with that, but we should be able to have these hearings and hopefully the court will start scheduling them more regularly than they have in the past.”

The court should be able to have bond revocation hearings virtually, she said.

Wilson says she’s pushed for a long time to estreat bonds, the process where judges collect money when someone breaks their bond.

“If the defendant doesn’t show or if they violate, the person who vouches - whether it be a family member or a bonds company - they’re on the hook for that amount of money,” Wilson said. “There needs to be due process, of course. A judge makes the final call for how much of the bond is estreated or given to the state. But that needs to happen.”

Chief Reynolds says problems with bond hit especially close to home after one of his officers was shot last December.

“We say to ourselves, ‘Wow. If we would have been out there proactively and we would have arrested that offender before they shot someone, we would have prevented a homicide.’ Then we say, ‘Oh. Well, we did arrest this person who shot one of our officers.’ He actually was arrested earlier that year. He had an extensive violent history. He was carrying guns,” Reynolds said.

He continued, “If we had arrested him before that shooting with those guns, what would have happened to him? I would argue: Nothing. Zero. That’s a problem.”

We also talked to Chief Reynolds and Solicitor Wilson about flaws in the GPS monitoring system.

Our reporter Kaitlin Stansell is investigating that issue for our ongoing series.

If you have any tips or stories you’d like our team to Investigate, emails Tips@Live5news.com

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