By Paul Gable
Public corruption cases are all the news in South Carolina lately and it’s time for the name Southern Holdings to be as scrutinized as Harrell, Metts or Pinson among others.
The Southern Holdings case stems from actions by the Horry County Sheriff’s Department and Horry County Police Department in June 2000 and August 2000, as well as subsequent events.
Southern Holdings, Inc. and several stockholders of this closely held corporation are plaintiffs in the case. Horry County, Horry County Police Department, Horry County Sheriff’s Department and various individuals are defendants in the case.
Any time you study an issue that evolves from the original Southern Holdings case, you get tangled in a web of lies, deceit and public corruption.
Videotapes of an August 2000 arrest by HCPD of Southern Holdings then CEO James Spencer were key pieces of evidence in the lawsuit.
Horry County police officer Jay Brantley gave two differing and contradictory sworn statements of what he did with original videotapes of the arrest. In neither account did the videotapes make it to an HCPD evidence locker in August 2000.
In records associated with the case, then Horry County police chief Paul Goward said SLED confiscated the original videotapes in 2000. SLED said it did not. Chain of Custody of the videotapes is obviously missing.
The saga of the alleged, original videotapes became more interesting after an analysis of copies of the videotapes by plaintiff’s expert Steve Cain in 2003 indicated editing. Cain needed the original videotapes and/or the original recording equipment and any other exemplar original videotape from that equipment to confirm editing.
In an affidavit submitted by Cain to the Court, he stated On October 27, 2004, defendants’ attorney Robert E. Lee took to Cain’s laboratory what Lee represented as the three original videotapes and the recorder used by Brantley during the arrest.
In the affidavit Cain stated, “On October 28, 2004, before the actual examination of the three videotapes began and after I described the use of exemplar videotapes to authenticate the videotape as an original recorded by a specific recorder, defendants’ counsel Lee unexpectedly took the videotapes he had just delivered to me and left the laboratory. I was informed by Lee that he would return with the videotapes…as soon as he took care of an unexpected situation that had developed in South Carolina that required his immediate presence.”
The original videotapes were crucial pieces of evidence for the plaintiffs. What exactly happened to them in the hours and days immediately after the arrest remains a mystery. When Horry County’s attorney was informed of the authentication procedures that would be used on the videotapes, he immediately grabbed the videotapes and took off back to South Carolina.
The S.C. Budget and Control Board, SLED and, allegedly, the FBI became involved with these videotapes after their return to South Carolina. How and why require too long an explanation for this short missive.
The federal judge in the case has given three differing, contradictory written explanations in Court records of how and why the alleged, original videotapes came to be first in the custody of SLED and, then, allegedly the FBI. He has never been required to explain these contradictions.
The machinations, manipulations and contradictions that are part of the court record of the Southern Holdings case, not only with regards to the videotapes, but also of many other aspects of the case, make Harrell, Metts and Pinson look like beginners cases.
If those three cases justify the amount of publicity and scrutiny they have received to date, Southern Holdings also qualifies.
A recent ruling on Southern Holdings by the federal district court judge is being appealed to the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.
How this appeal is handled at the Fourth Circuit will go a long way in demonstrating just how much respect for the law exists within the court system.