Laurens County has a mess
COMMENTARY: We are so mad we could spit.
This is bad. This is really, really bad. This is pure-T bad. It's being cleaned up, so there won't be any criminal charges. But this is bad, this is the pure definition of malfeasance in office.
In what will have to pass as fairness, the argument could be, "Which do you want, deputies patrolling the roads, or bean-counters marking the evidence?" Now we know, those bean-counterers have a role to play. They have a role in ensuring justice for all people - something, we fear, has been denied for a long time because the Laurens County Sheriff's Office used to not store its evidence properly. For years, the rumor has been, "Want a gun? Go to the old jail and get cha one." Now we know, it's true.
Guns, drugs, money - all of it uncateloged and available for the taking. A SLED audit 6 months in the making has confirmed it. If we Laurens County citizens do not owe Sheriff Don Reynolds a debt for anything else, we owe him a debt for getting this straightened out. It is a matter that should go to the State Grand Jury, but it won't. Those people have enough on their plate investigating members of the State Legislature.
It is not too much of a stretch for us to wonder: Is this why the 8th Circuit Solicitor's Office ran up such a backlog of unprosecuted cases in Laurens County? Every time a prosecutor called for evidence in a case, that attorney was told, "It's in here somewhere." How many people pleaded guilty because they were told "we have the evidence," when, in fact, that evidence could not have been readily produced? And we're not talking a case here or there - stacks and stacks of guns, money in the wrong place, drugs where kids could get them if they went to the Sheriff's Office's former haunted house. That haunted house was in the haunted jail - haunted by all the cases jeopardized by evidence left lying around. Once the evidence is straightened out, that place outght to be bulldozed.
There is a process law enforcement has to go through to keep the property it seizes from people who are arrested. That process does not include a provision for "throw it in a closet somewhere." Everyone who has had anything seized by the Laurens County Sheriff's Office in the last 24 years has a reason to wonder about the status of their property - and the procedure used to keep it. It's a good thing we didn't pass that $109 million school bond referendum - we're going to need that money to hire a civil forfeiture attorney. And this is not inventing the wheel - Richland County handles a lot more evidence than we do, just follow what they do. It makes you wonder what deputies and investigators who used to work in the Sheriff's Office used to think when they realized, "this is not how things are supposed to be."
On a personal note, we are deeply disappointed that this SLED audit was not released to all the Laurens County media at the same time. We are not a fan of "news conferences" - this is a time when a news conference at the Hillcrest Square Center was justified. We've been in this business long enough to know, persistence wins. Go at your job with a health does of cynicism. When people say, "there is no audit" be a little skeptical. It's difficult to believe people can screw up this badly - believe it anyway.