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C-I files FOIA request in Cushman case

Posted: September 25, 2012 7:30 p.m.
Updated: September 26, 2012 5:00 a.m.

 

The Chronicle-Independent delivered copies of a S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request Monday to the city of Camden in relation to misconduct in office charges against suspended City Attorney Charles Cushman. The FOIA request is addressed to City Manager Kevin Bronson and Camden Police Chief Joe Floyd, with a copy delivered to Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham.

Cushman turned himself in for booking at the Kershaw County Detention Center on Sept. 19 after being accused of dropping Camden Municipal Court charges against certain defendants in exchange for “donations” into the Camden City Drug Fund.

The restricted fund is used to help the Camden Police Department (CPD) fight drug crime and further anti-drug education in the city. The fund is normally funded through the seizure of cash and property connected to drug crimes. Bronson and Floyd have also indicated that citizen donations are another way money is placed into the fund, but are in no way tied to court cases.

The allegation that Cushman dropped charges against defendants in exchange for “donations” into the fund raises a number of questions the C-I sought to have answered during a joint interview with Bronson and Floyd Friday. While they answered many of the C-I’s questions, published Monday, they stated that, due to the pending case against Cushman, they could not answer others.

Some of those questions, or the remaining pieces of information are:

• What criteria did the Camden City Attorney use to facilitate this program?

• Was the criteria written down?

• If there were no criteria or if it wasn’t written down, why wasn’t that the case?

• If there were no criteria, how were defendants chosen to participate in the program?

• Who were offered the chance to participate in this program?

• Who were not offered the chance to participate in the program?

• Did anyone who was offered the chance to participate in this program decline?

In addition, the C-I recognized a discrepancy between some figures given concerning drug cases handled by Cushman in Camden Municipal Court. During Friday’s interview, Floyd stated that 249 simple possession of marijuana charges were handled in Camden Municipal Court since January 2005. However, Floyd also confirmed in a follow up phone call that out of a yearly average of 2,200 total CPD cases, an average of only 22 cases per year were handled by Cushman. The C-I calculates that to be approximately 154 cases in the seven years SLED uses as a reference in its warrant against Cushman.

In its FOIA request, the C-I asked the city to clarify the apparent discrepancy.

Also, the C-I has been told that a request was made by the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office to cease and desist conducting the practice of allowing defendants to make “donations” to the drug fund in exchange for dismissed charges. The C-I asked for a copy of that communication in its FOIA request.

It should also be noted that in asking the city who were and were not offered the chance to participate in the program, the C-I asked for the names and addresses of those people. The C-I is doing so in order to help determine the program’s criteria, and has no plans at this time to publish anyone’s name or address.

The C-I informed Bronson and Floyd during Friday’s interview that it was likely that it would file this FOIA request. As stated in the FOIA request, the C-I believes the public has a right to the knowledge that could be gleaned from being provided this information.

“It is our job, as the county’s paper of record, to assist the public by obtaining and publishing this information so they may have a better understanding of the issue at hand,” the C-I wrote, adding that it would likely publish the contents of the FOIA request.

According to FOIA regulations, the city has 15 working days from Monday to indicate its intent to, or not to, provide the requested information. Within that time, it must alert the C-I as to whether it will honor any part of the request, and/or explain why it will not provide some or none of the information.

In Monday’s article, the C-I noted that Graham and council members Willard Polk and Alfred Mae Drakeford both stated they were not aware of the drug fund’s existence prior to Cushman’s arrest, nor of his practice of dismissing charges in exchange for “donations” to the fund. Since then, Councilman Pat Partin has also stated that he was unaware of both the fund and Cushman’s activity. Councilman Walter Long had yet to respond to the question by deadline Tuesday.

 

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