From Jurassic Park to the County Line, Political Intimidation Runs Gamut

April 18, 2016

Investigative Reports

Print Friendly
By RON AIKEN

arrest

Some State House pols not averse to using government to intimidate opponents, critics

One night while a student at Clemson back in 1993, Talbert Black was bored.

Since Jurassic Park had just come out, he rented the VCR from the mom and pop video shop down the street and enjoyed the Steven Spielberg thriller.

Instead of returning it to the local video store, however, he mistakenly returned it to the Blockbuster across the street where he also rented movies. This youthful error triggered an unfortunate series of events including a warrant for his arrest being taken out by the aggrieved store owner before Black resolved the matter by getting the video back from Blockbuster and returning it to its rightful owner some four months later.

Fast-forward to 2009, and Black, now coordinator for the South Carolina Campaign for Liberty, found himself in a heated argument with his state senator, Jake Knotts of Lexington.

“This was back when the fight to get mandatory roll call-voting passed was in high gear,” Black said. “It was a big issue to all the grassroots organizations across the state.

I had gone down to the State House for something and ran into Senator Knotts. I knew the bill at that time was in his committee, and we probably had a 30 to 45-minute conversation about it where he was very condescending to me about it.”

With the conversation going nowhere, Black knew he wouldn’t change Knotts’ mind.

“I said, ‘Well, it’s clear you won’t be supporting the bill in subcommittee” Black said. “He said, ‘I don’t even know what subcommittee it’s in.’ I said, ‘Senator, it’s in your subcommittee.’

“And he said, ‘Then you can rest assured it’s never going to see the light of day.’”

After this, Black sent out an email to grassroots political organizations about the conversation, and it had the desired effect.

“His phone lines lit up,” Black said. “It was nice.”

What wasn’t so nice, Black believes, was what happened next.

About two weeks later Black was driving home from a friend’s house in Northeast Columbia and was pulled over for having a headlight out. He’d already bought the replacement light but had not yet installed it.

“I showed the office the light and he said no problem, he’d just run my license and I’d be on my way,” Black said. “A few minutes later he came back, put me in cuffs and arrested be for non-return of rental equipment from 1993.

“I thought about that for a second and remembered I’d been pulled over several times for speeding since then, and it had never come up before. I’d even recently gotten a concealed weapons permit and had it renewed. I asked the officer why that was, and he started typing on his computer before saying, ‘Huh. That’s interesting.’”

What was interesting was that the arrest warrant hadn’t shown up until the day before he was pulled over.

“I thought about it over and over, and in my mind there’s no way it wasn’t connected to (Sen.) Jake Knotts,” Black said. “With his law enforcement connections, he did a search on me and found that warrant never got dismissed even though I returned the video. It was just sitting there in Pickens County despite the fact that the video store had long since closed.”

Since it was in Pickens County and he was in Richland and since it was a Friday night, he was to await transport to Pickens County on Monday to go before a judge on Tuesday. His son’s prom was Saturday night, and a lunch was scheduled for Saturday with the parents of the two teens and the teenage couple.

Fortunately, a family connection was able to reach a Pickens County police office, and the matter was quickly settled in time for his release Saturday afternoon (he missed the lunch, but not prom pictures).

Senator Knotts in particular had a reputation for using his law enforcement connections to bully opponents and critics, often dropping in on friendly newspaper editors or reporters and leaving them enormous folders full of confidential information on his enemies. In fact, Black himself witnessed that behavior on one occasion.

“A few years later I was in his office talking about something else and he reached over to filing cabinet,” Black said. “He pulled out a folder he had with Mark Sanford’s name on it. He said, ‘You know what that is? I said it looked like a folder with the governor’s name on it.

“He said, ‘That’s right. The governor has been writing some checks out of his campaign account he shouldn’t have been writing. You know what I’m going to do with it?”’ I said I sure didn’t, and he said, ‘Nothing for now. I’m just gonna hold on to it until the time is right to use it,’ and he put it back into his filing cabinet.

“I don’t know what ever happened to that folder.”

Unfortunately, politicians using their political connections or even using the wheels of government itself to punish, threaten, bully or intimidate critics is still an issue in South Carolina.

Consider:

  • In June 2014, the head of a national gun-rights advocacy group charged Gov. Nikki Haley with sicking the S.C. Ethics Commission on his organizations. As reported by The Nerve, a lawyer with the ethics commission admitted to being asked by Haley’s office to contact the group, the National Association for Gun Rights, which was opposing a gun-reform bill Haley wanted to see passed.
    “Simply by the Ethics Commission calling our office and asking about an existing and pending matter before the Legislature – it was a clear method to intimidate citizens from practicing free speech,” said Brown, who lives in Colorado and also serves as CEO of the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Gun Owners organization.
    “This was a transparent bully attempt by (Haley) warning us, ‘Shut up, or the Ethics Commission is coming to look at you.’”
  • A citizen who sent a letter to the Senate Ethics Committee detailing what he believed to be misuses of campaign funds by Sen. John Matthews (D-Orangeburg) and Sen. Luke Rankin (R-Horry) – both of whom sit on the Ethics Committee – received a letter in the mail from Rankin that concluded with a stern warning that the citizen could be subject to prosecution from the Attorney General’s office for the manner in which he submitted his complaint.
  • At the local level, political ill will can turn just as ugly, such as when members of the Lexington-Richland School District 5 were so upset with then-board member Kim Murphy of Chapin that an effort was successfully made to re-draw the county line so as to remove her home from being in the county and, therefore, ineligible to serve.

Reach Aiken at (803) 254-4411. Email him at ron@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RonAiken and @TheNerveSC.

  • Stupid is what we got

    Products of an electorate “educated” in the worst public education system in the USA. These are the very folks who are fighting reasonable and necessary Ethics Legislation in the General Assembly “tooth and nail”.

  • Big Oink

    Jake Knotts is a pig, in every sense of the word. He got a diligent DHEC environmental investigator canned too, to cover up illegal dumping of asbestos-filled waste.

  • Karma

    These kinds of tactics have been used for decades; even by lawyers. And isn’t there a lawyer running for State Senate in District 41?

  • 1SC

    The Knotts story is about politicians attacking other politicians, not a citizen activist, and the rest is pretty feeble.

  • Really??

    “when members of the Lexington-Richland School District 5 were so upset with then-board member Kim Murphy of Chapin that an effort was successfully made to re-draw the county line so as to remove her home from being in the county and, therefore, ineligible to serve.”

    Not even close to being right – read the actual court records for the real facts

    http://ftpcontent4.worldnow.com/wistv/pdf/COOPERMURPHY.pdf

    • Ron Aiken

      Thanks for the link; I did read it. And I did not see anything that would change the nature of the issue that unhappy board members contrived to remove a sitting member they vehemently and publicly disagreed with using the auspices of establishing a line different from the one currently recognized by Richland County, to whom she paid taxes and was given voting privileges. Nothing in those documenta refutes that,; it actually confirms it. Please tell me the school district does this for every home along the hundred-plus miles of boundary of both Richland and Lexington counties. Please tell me this one tiny plot of land on a county edge was worth the thousands of public dollars it took to investigate and have declared in another county — aka having the boundary re-drawn from the way it had been interpreted for years — not because she was a contentious member the majority of the board wanted out but because the school district takes such a serious and comprehensive interest in any and every part of the border where childrens’ homes may come near to. I’d love a link to all the cases brought before a judge where the district had a child removed from school after spending thousands to do nre surveys of the county line. I await that link.

      • Really??

        I’ll start with this comment “contrived to remove a sitting member”, I assume by “contrived” you are trying to convey that the issue was artificial or manufactured. If it was manufactured then why have at least 3 separate judges confirmed that Ms. Murphy is indeed a legal resident of Lexington County according to existing state law? If you go look at the Lexington County maps available on their website you will see that Lexington County shows Ms. Murphy’s home to be within their borders. This was also true on the day the issue was raised. Presented with two county maps that both indicated her home was in their respective county and notified by state authorities that she was not a legal resident of Richland County what do you think the board should have done? Ignored the issue? Willfully violated state law? You say the court document actually confirms your argument that the case was “contrived”, can you please cite the exact text that proves this?

        I know the District makes each child provide 3 proofs of residency every year, and that each year some children are removed for being non-residents. My point being that the District does do residency compliance and I believe that if they were given this same scenario with a student they would have made the inquiries they did in this case.

        The real issue for me is your statement that the line was re-drawn. It would be more accurate to say the line was corrected. The line, as presented by Richland County, did not comply with the boundary definitions as written in state law, as the court document details at length. In other words, no one changed the boundary or changed state law, the line was merely corrected by state officials to comply with existing state law. This fact is clearly established in the court record. Given all the negative articles The Nerve has published noting the lack of credibility among Richland County officials is it really so hard for you to believe they goofed up a map?

        Can you show me one other county, state or federal map that shows Ms. Murphy’s home to be in Richland County other than the one published by Richland County? Can you show me one court decision Murphy has won that establishes she is a legal resident of Richland County or that the school district did anything improper in the way the case was handled? I will await the link(s).

        • Samantha Spencer

          Richland County and Lexington County both agree Murphy is in Richland County, where she was elected and still pays taxes on her home and votes. If she didn’t pay those taxes, her home would be sold on the Courthouse steps — Richland County’s

          An important fact in this matter is that the entities that contrived the line never did do a survey to determine where the county line lays on the ground or if it’s any different than the line the counties recognize. In fact, the line hasn’t changed and the Murphy’s and anybody else who would be subject to changing counties based on this concocted line are still right where they were.

          It’s crazy to think that the school district would attempt something like this, spend thousands of taxpayer dollars, un-elect someone mid-term with no concrete substance — just a line drawn on an aerial photo, disenfranchise the voters who elected her and that judges would even affirm their actions. But, then again, that may be why the matter is still in the Courts. Perfect example of the kind of SC politics Mr. Aiken referred to in his article. Scary….

          • Really??

            “Richland County and Lexington County both agree Murphy is in Richland County”, No they don’t go look at the Lexington County Tax Maps on their website and it will show they think the home is in their county.

            “entities that contrived the line never did do a survey to determine where the county line lays on the ground or if it’s any different than the line the counties recognize.”

            You obviously did not read they court records where the state officials testify they went to the site with survey equipment and determined the home to be in Lexington County. The even testified under oath that is was not a hard call as the home is not even close to the line.

            “But, then again, that may be why the matter is still in the Courts.”

            The ONLY reason the matter is still being litigated is because Murphy keeps appealing her losses (4 and counting), so any funds that are being spent are being spent because of her actions.

          • Ron Aiken

            Still waiting on that link.

          • Really??

            Check the bottom of this page

            http://rfa.sc.gov/geodetic/scboundary

            Notes that multiple counties have boundaries with “questions” that the state is investigating. So, the Murphy case, contrary to your assertion, is not unique.

            I’m still waiting on links from you, any idea when/if you can provide them?

            “Can you show me one other county, state or federal map that shows Ms. Murphy’s home to be in Richland County other than the one published by Richland County? Can you show me one court decision Murphy has won that establishes she is a legal resident of Richland County or that the school district did anything improper in the way the case was handled?”

          • Really??

            Still waiting on my link(s) Ron.

          • Really??

            Still waiting on my links Ron…

            While I wait here is another story about boundary issues in SC

            http://www.thestate.com/news/state/south-carolina/article79699747.html

          • Really??

            Still waiting on my links Ron…over a month and counting.

          • Really??

            Here is another link documenting boundary work by our state.

            http://www.wistv.com/story/32120443/sc-house-passes-bill-clarifying-border-between-carolinas

            Since it has been over a month since I asked you “Can you show me one other county, state or federal map that shows Ms. Murphy’s home to be in Richland County other than the one published by Richland County? Can you show me one court decision Murphy has won that establishes she is a legal resident of Richland County or that the school district did anything improper in the way the case was handled?” and you have not responded I will go ahead and assume no such evidence exists.