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Man who shot at deputies in Dec. was out on bond

Posted: January 17, 2013 5:39 p.m.
Updated: January 18, 2013 5:00 a.m.
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Ernest Allen

Like a scene from a movie, a man jumps out of a van at night, shoots at four deputies and flees into some woods. He empties his gun’s chamber, tosses it and continues on foot with bloodhounds chasing after him. He escapes … at least for now.

But it wasn’t a movie. Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) deputies raced this real-life situation when they initiated a traffic stop on Precipice Road east of Camden on the evening of Dec. 20, 2012. They had been looking for Ernest Maurice Allen, 25, a.k.a., Ernest Pickett because he had failed to show up for a court appearance and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

There were questions about why Allen was out on the streets in the first place. The answer: bond.

According to copies of court documents obtained by the Chronicle-Independent, KCSO deputies arrested Allen on May 30, 2012, charging him with four counts of distribution of crack cocaine (third offense) and four counts of distribution of crack cocaine within proximity of a school. The charges stemmed from alleged activity on April 12, 2012, and could still land Allen in jail for 10 years.

In fact, it was the second time deputies had tried to arrest Allen. When they had tried the first time, Allen fled to Miami, but was located by Florida law enforcement and returned to Kershaw County.

After Allen’s arrest in May 2012, Kershaw County Magistrate Judge Darrell Drakeford set bond on each of the eight charges so that they totaled $225,000, a fairly substantial amount. In July, Allen’s attorney went to circuit court to request a bond reduction. Circuit Court Judge L. Casey Manning reduced Allen’s bond to $40,000, permitting him to post 10 percent for release. Allen paid the $4,000 and got back on the street.

Jump several months to November 2012 when Allen failed to appear in court in relation to the drug charges. A judge issued the bench warrant, allowing deputies to arrest Allen if they happen to locate him again. That happened a month later when deputies received a tip that Allen might be in a minivan on or near Precipice Road. They followed up and successfully located it traveling on Precipice Road.

Deputies initiated the traffic stop after spotting him as a passenger in the van. When they approached, however, he jumped out, reached into his pants for a .38 caliber pistol and opened fire on the deputies. One deputy returned fire, but apparently did not hit Allen. The KCSO bloodhound team responded and located the gun but not Allen. A S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) bloodhound team with fresh dogs picked up the trail, but still couldn’t locate Allen.

The next day, the KCSO received a tip that Allen might be in Lee County’s Red Hill community near “Little Egypt.” Working with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, KCSO deputies found him around 3:15 p.m., chased him and captured him as he tried to hide behind a shed.

Following Allen’s capture, Matthews expressed frustration with the Kershaw County’s Magistrate’s Office, believing Allen had gotten a free pass from Drakeford. Matthews turned that frustration to praise for Drakeford once he learned of the bond reduction at the circuit court level.

 “There was no KCSO representative at the initial bond hearing, and we (KCSO) were not aware of the bond reduction. In this case Drakeford made the right call,” said Matthews.

According to Kershaw County Chief Magistrate Roderick “Rick” Todd, magistrate judges are often faced with having to make swift decisions when individuals are detained for charges and base those decisions on information presented to them at bond hearings, usually within hours of the incident. Even when a magistrate judge imposes a hefty bond, the bond can be reduced at the circuit court level upon appeal, which is what happened in Allen’s case.

Todd said the first consideration that a magistrate judge makes is whether the defendant is a danger to the community or a flight risk. He said victims of crime are also required to be given a reasonable opportunity to appear for subsequent events in a case like a bond hearing or a trial.

“The statute says that we have to look at personal recognizance first,” Todd said, referring to when a suspect may be released without having to pay any bond up front. “The second type bond is if somebody feels that someone constitutes some risk of flight or may constitute a danger to the community. You can set a cash or surety bond. You can’t set a cash-only bond -- that is contrary to the law. So that bondsman communicates with the defendant, with the defendant’s family, whatever the case may be and charges a fee. But that defendant is obligated for the full amount of the bond.

A third type of bond, Todd said, is called a 10 percent bond.

“They can pay that 10 percent into the court. Very rarely do we do that, but that is an option that we have. Even statutorily though, we have a predisposition to look at personal recognizance first,” Todd said.

Todd reiterated that magistrate judges have to make decisions on limited information. Hearings happen quickly and take into consideration the testimony of the defendant, victim, and arresting officers.

Documents obtained by the C-I do not reveal why Manning made his ruling in favor of a bond reduction. However, due to the new attempted murder charges, a magistrate has now denied Allen bond keeping him in jail until he comes face to face with a circuit court judge again.

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