In case you missed it, there’s a new sheriff in town: Kristin R. Graziano — South Carolina’s first woman to hold the title — but that doesn’t necessarily translate into an efficient jail system or safer communities. A lot has happened during our absence, both good and bad, with the latter eclipsing the former with raging criminals (the “bad” guys) committing crime with impunity while productive members of society (the “good” guys) are on the receiving end of an unbalanced justice system that curries favor with the rich and politically powerful. But, this is nothing our readers aren’t privy to.
More of the Same From Charleston’s Courts and Judges
We cringe when we say it. And we really do wish things were different — but they are not. Take 34-year-old Kevin T. Boston, a convicted sex offender and stalker who was arraigned in court and gifted personal recognizance bond on Dec. 22 after failing to register as a sex offender, mere days removed from a six-month stint behind bars for damaging property and trespassing. What preceded that was Mr. Boston’s third-to-last arrest earlier in the year on charges relating to petty larceny. This led to a common retort from the court that benefitted Mr. Boston, whose bond was reduced to personal recognizance from Circuit Court Judge R. Markley Dennis, Jr.
Unbeknownst to the rank-and-file court staff and the judge in question, the decision to grant Mr. Boston amnesty would later become a stumbling block due to his sex offender status and rap sheet stretching back a decade. As we turn the clock back six years, we learn Mr. Boston was slapped with two charges alleging that he solicited and had sexual relations with a minor: criminal sexual conduct with a minor under the age of 11 first degree; and solicitation of a minor. He pleaded guilty to the latter solicitation charge only for the prosecutor to declare Nolle Prosequi for the first (Latin for “will no longer prosecute”). And Mr. Boston would forever bear the label of a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Before continuing the main theme of this story, It’s likely you are wondering what tier even means as it relates to sex offender classification. And it is used for just that — to shuffle and order an offender in layman’s terms. The tiers differ state to state, but Mr. Boston’s Tier II status is the most serious and must therefore meet the following criteria set by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA): the offender commits “the most felonious sexual abuse or sexual exploitation crimes” that denigrate and devalue victims who are minors; this can also includes child pornography.
As always, we work hard to exercise partiality and fairness that is occasionally absent from local and national news media. But perhaps the most recent bond court judge (Not R. Markley Dennis, Jr.) could have been more diligent in performing his or her duties — to fully consider the ramifications of cutting Mr. Boston loose, which includes potentially endangering some hapless victim of his sex crimes or creating a new one. This rather simply amounts to an improper tipping of the scales of justice, the prosecution’s work to indemnify Mr. Boston be damned — and a serious precedent is being set for sexual predators looking for their next victim.
So Who is Responsible?
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council was first awarded a lucrative grant in 2016, in an effort to stymie recidivism for low-level, nonviolent offenders and supposedly make data-driven decisions for inmates seeking bail. Although the council has also argued in favor of discharging bench warrants or slashing bail for low-level inmates, the policy sticking point has had the unintended consequence of releasing domestic and sex offenders from jails across the state. Mitch Lucas, the acting Assistant Sheriff to Al Cannon and CJCC Chairman, has repeatedly lauded the council efforts to hone in on five summary-level charges to reduce the local jail population: simple possession of marijuana; shoplifting; trespassing; open container; and public intoxication.
But this isn’t telling the full story — several hundred violent criminals have been released from jail without paying a bond in the four years the council has influenced criminal justice policy, and Mr. Boston’s case accentuates that concern. Kristy Danford, Project Director of the CJCC and a colleague of Lucas’, defended these results in a 2017 internet article: “We’re making more deliberate decisions about when to use jail and when not to.” But despite the supposed good that has come from the countywide collaboration, how — if at all — could the decision to release predators back into Charleston’s streets be justified? One reason it can’t be is due to South Carolina repeatedly ranking atop a list of states hardest hit by domestic violence — and was the seventh-worst in 2020 alone (Read our article on domestic violence here).
Mr. Lucas’ credibility as chairman of the council has been called into question in recent weeks after sending a scathing and unhinged email to the entire Sheriff’s Office staff — including Sheriff-Elect Graziano. In it he wrote that her actions were “borderline cruel” and that she had “no idea how to be a sheriff yet”, in an apparent reference to the future of several employees in limbo. The theory that Lucas is quickly losing his grip on power and hellbent on maintaining it seems to hold water, and seriously undermines his work in undoing the Lowcountry’s bail system that has irreparably harmed our social fabric.
Our Proposal Is Simple
The goal of drawing attention to and rebalancing the weights of justice should be a top priority for the incoming administration that successfully ran a campaign on community outreach and service. But the recent freedom granted by the courts to Mr. Boston punctuates a skewed and self-serving criminal justice system that is “soft-on-crime” and lacking in accountability. Our society should stray from punishing the very bail agents that have been declared useful by Charleston County Solicitor Scarlett Wilson — because even she agrees that higher numbers of defendants appear in court under their supervision. And this flies in the face of the solicitor’s commitment to “shut the revolving jail door and […] stop the bleeding.” We have a useful tip for Ms. Wilson and Sheriff-elect Kristin R. Graziano: Stop the bleeding and reverse this miscarriage of justice by holding the worst offenders accountable — and the first step would be sending the CJCC packing.