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Bail for Northwoods Mall shooting suspect highlights authorities’ struggle with new law

By Andrew Knapp, The Post and Courier

When Timothy Xavier McClendon appeared for a bond hearing a day after his arrest in a shooting outside Northwoods Mall, a new state law should have prohibited a magistrate from setting bail for the 16-year-old.

The new bond law

If a person commits a violent crime when already out on bail for a previous violent crime, then the bond hearing for the subsequent violent crime must be held in the circuit court within 30 days. If the court finds that no conditions will ensure that the person will not flee or pose a danger to the community, the court shall not set a bond for the new offense and must revoke all previously set bonds.

The arresting agency must notify the solicitor and the administrative chief judge of the circuit about the second crime. The prosecuting agency must notify any victims of the initial or subsequent crimes.

Source: S.C. Legislature

That’s not what happened.

The Wednesday night proceeding was a month after McClendon posted bail on a cocaine trafficking charge, considered a violent offense in South Carolina.

 Under the law enacted in April, a magistrate cannot set bail on a new violent crime for someone already free on an alleged violent offense. Charleston-area officials had championed it as a way to stop offenders from being cut free to carry out more violence.

But McClendon’s bail on charges of attempted murder, armed robbery and possession of a firearm in a violent crime was set at $160,000.

What led to the move was not clear, but 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said Thursday that it wasn’t an isolated instance. Highlighting the new law’s requirements, Wilson has sent two memos to area police agencies since it went into effect. They bear the burden of informing the court and prosecutors about a defendant’s past.

“I have not been alerted to this situation” in McClendon’s case, said Wilson, who pushed the Legislature to pass a version of the law. “There have been errors at the … bond-setting level.”

North Charleston Police Department spokesman Spencer Pryor, whose agency arrested McClendon both times, said he could not immediately provide any information about what happened. He deferred questions to Charleston County’s magistrates.

Magistrate Alvin Bligen, who set McClendon’s bail, was not available for comment, workers in his office said Thursday. Chief Magistrate David Coker said he was not aware of the problem in the case.

“But it’s the responsibility of the police to provide the bond judge with the information on a defendant’s history,” Coker said. “I, as a judge, don’t have the ability to look up your criminal records.”

‘Wasn’t informed’

Sponsored by two Charleston lawmakers, Senate Bill 19 garnered broad support in Columbia. Before the governor signed it April 7, only one representative had voted against it.

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen had testified to a House panel that the bill would target the criminals who have “no respect for the system” and no qualms about perpetrating further violence once freed on bail.

For such alleged repeat offenders, their bond hearings would be held in front of a circuit judge within 30 days of their arrests. The law calls for the arresting agency to inform the chief administrative judge and solicitor about the latest development and the earlier charges for which the person had posted bail.

A magistrate would continue to set bail for other defendants within 24 hours of an arrest. Someone free on bail on a violent crime who gets arrested on a nonviolent charge, such as unlawfully carrying a firearm, would be entitled to that hearing.

Magistrates started seeing problems the same month the law went into effect.

Samuel Eugene Bolger, 21, was implicated in the April 21 slaying of 16-year-old Ty’Quan Murrell President in North Charleston.

When Bolger appeared for a bond hearing two days later, Magistrate Linda Lombard couldn’t set bail on his murder charge under laws already on the books for a while. But Lombard took time to tell a North Charleston police detective that Bolger had been free on bail on an armed robbery charge.

“The bond hearing should go upstairs to General Sessions Court,” Lombard said. “They changed the law. … So what am I doing here?”

“I wasn’t informed of that, your honor,” the detective said. “I apologize.”

In May, Wilson sent her first memo to law agencies in Charleston and Berkeley counties in hopes of simplifying the process for police officers.

It named a point person for her office, Assistant Solicitor Denton Matthews, whom officers should email about an arrest. In turn, prosecutors would inform the circuit judge, schedule a bond hearing and notify victims.

‘It happens’

McClendon’s recent arrest came after he and a 15-year-old were implicated in the shooting Monday outside the Northwoods Mall.

Davin Jerome Aiken, 20, said he had gone there to pick up the duo, but they each pulled out pistols and demanded money, according to arrest affidavits. Aiken tried to grab the guns from them, but he was instead shot twice in the back and once in the arm, the document stated.

McClendon and the other teen were jailed the next day. As a 16-year-old accused of a violent crime, McClendon was charged as an adult, and he appeared for the bond hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Whether the magistrate considered documents about McClendon’s arrest history was not known.

But magistrate-level paperwork showing McClendon’s previous charge did exist.

He had been arrested in January on the trafficking charge and six other counts after North Charleston officers found cocaine, marijuana and pistols in a house where he was. Lombard set his bail that month at $600,000.

Magistrate James Gosnell reduced it to $25,000 in April and ordered that he be placed on house arrest. McClendon was allowed to venture outside only for work, doctor’s checkups, meetings with his attorney and court appearances.

He was released June 24.

The document detailing those bail conditions labels his alleged offense as violent.

But McClendon’s rap sheet on file with the State Law Enforcement Division was blank. It’s unknown, though, if that factored into his bail being set Wednesday.

SLED spokeswoman Kathryn Richardson said the agency never received the fingerprints needed to add McClendon’s arrest to his criminal history. Jails and police agencies typically send the prints, she said.

“I don’t know why we don’t have them,” Richardson said. “Occasionally, it happens. But I don’t understand why this time.”

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