Currently in the media, there is a lot of hype circulating regarding the current concerns with Officer Brutality and Traffic stops. Traffic stops are typically routine for Officers and the public, but now due to the current media hype, the public is growing more intimidated to be pulled over for any reason.
On Wednesday, July 27, 2016, lawyer Vicki Koutsogiannis and our intake coordinating Caitlyn Lovette attended a Diversity Lunch Series held by the South Carolina Bar to discuss these current issues. The topic of the lunch was, Interacting with Law Enforcement: Your Rights and Your Safety. This lunch consisted of a panel of individuals from all fields of Law in order to give the public multiple perspectives regarding the issue. The panel was hosted by Cynthia Hardy from
OnPoint! and it included; Rick Hubbard (the newly elected Solicitor of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit), Susan Kuo (a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law), James Shadd, III (a Solo Practitioner Attorney who handles Criminal Defense, Personal Injury, and Domestic Law), and Lieutenant Curtis Wilson (the Public Information Officer for Richland County Sheriff's Department).
One of the first topics addressed was in regards to Videotape Representation being allowed as Evidence. Hubbard and Shadd both brought up the issue that you don't know by looking at the video, what happened before the video started recording or after the video stopped. This can make the video very frustrating due to the witness only having a certain perspective of the incident whether that perspective be the truth or not. In the current videotapes being shown in the media, many are of shootings by officers during these stops, who think that the suspect or person stopped, is reaching for a weapon and they feel their life is threatened. Most of the current public feels that the officers are reacting to irrational and they are letting their fear guide their actions. Lt. Wilson brought up that one of the safest ways to control this situation would be for the Officers to use instructive and guided questions in order to control the situation and allow the stop to go as smooth as possible. This ensures that both sides feel safe and there is no misconstrued scenario.
Another topic addressed was the issue with Implicit Bias by the entire Justice System, especially by the Officers and Prosecutors. Lt. Wilson brought up some examples from his own jurisdiction and how the current Sherriff Leon Lott handles these situations. Their department attends Diversity Training in order to be aware of the issues in the community and to make sure that there is as little to no bias in the Officers. This program also helps with their ties to the community. He also addressed the misconduct by officers in their department and how Sheriff Lott handles them. Sheriff Lott has zero tolerance for misconduct. If the charge against the Officer is severe, they are charged and they are removed from the force. Kuo also addressed this issue and how it especially related to the videotaping. She discussed how these videos in the media are "priming" the public to go the other way on how they normally would see these situations. These videos have made many who would normally support officers, change their opinions on them due to the brutality and irrationality they are viewing. The reality is that this instances have always been going on, they are just now being filmed and addressed to the public.
Our very own Attorney Vicki Koutsogiannis directed a question to the panel to tackle the issue of this brutality. She asked, "When should deadly force be used?" Lt. Wilson was the main panelist to tackle this question and started with the fact that the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy teaches on this very topic. Individual agencies also address this topic since it is a huge issue and one they are trying to combat. Lt. Wilson also went on to discuss the Use of Force Continuum, which has a rule that the officer can go Plus One. This means that whatever tactic the assailant tries, the officer can go Plus One. If the assailant has knife, they can go Plus One to a gun. However, they do start with their "Verbal Judo" and then they go from there. Richland County Sheriff's Department also implements any brutal scenario in the media into their training in order to make all officers aware of what to do and to further combat this brutality.
The final topic was about the appropriate ways to behave when stopped by Law Enforcement. For this topic, all four panelists agreed across the board that the best way to behave is to comply with the Officer says and if you want to complain, do so later at court, not during the stop. This ensures that the stop goes smoothly and that both parties leave the stop safe and unharmed. At the conclusion of the panel presentation Vicki and Caitlyn had their picture taken with Rick Hubbard, who will assume the role of lead prosecutor in the 11th Circuit (Lexington, Edgefield, McCormick and Saluda counties) next January.