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School trustee charged with contributing to deliquency of minors
Misdemeanor case related to underage drinking
Don Copley
Don Copley (Kershaw County School District website photo)

Dr. Donald Copley, a sitting member of the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees, is charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors in relation to a party held more than a month ago at his home where underage minors were allegedly in possession of and consuming alcoholic beverages.

According to a Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) report, several deputies and Camden Police Department officers responded to Copley’s home on Ole Still Lane in the South Gate subdivision off S.C. 34 (Bishopville Highway) right after midnight on July 5. One of the responding deputies reported finding “numerous beer cans that were littering the front and side of the residence.” As they and other officer made their way to the back of the home, they found who appeared to be young teenagers standing in the backyard.

One of the teenagers they met was identified as one of Copley’s children.

The deputy reported smelling the “stench” of alcoholic beverages and saw several large trash cans with a large amount of beer cans and liquor bottles. In addition, they found “numerous amounts” of empty and crushed beer cans in the backyard and near a pool area.

“There were a large number of teenagers gathered together and could see several more running through the house,” the deputy reported.

The deputies and officers made contact with Copley who stated that “he knew there was a large gathering and, at first, he did not know there was any alcohol being consumed, but when he went downstairs, he discovered that the teenagers had been drinking. He informed them that if anyone had been drinking, that (they) were not to leave if they could not get a ride home and that he would take them.”

Officers contacted the parents of all those under the age of 18 so they could pick them up.

Officers issued citations for being minors in possession/consumption of alcohol to those present who were over 18 years of age, but under 21. Those under 18 were also issued citations, but referred to the KCSO’s juvenile investigator.

According to KCSO Chief Deputy Steve Knafelc, those attending the party ranged in age from 16 to 20 years old, and that six of those present were under the age of 18, while another four were between 18 and 20 years old.

Deputies did not charge Copley until July 18, nearly two weeks after the party. Knafelc said he was unsure why there was a delay between July 5 and July 18 for Copley to be charged, but advised he would look into the matter.

Even after Copley’s arrest, Knafelc said, the report was kept “sealed.” In an email to the press, Knafelc said this was done “only because of the many juveniles involved.” He said that this is done as a routine procedure and that such reports are only released upon request.

Contributing to the delinquency of a minor is a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, carries a penalty of a fine of not more than $3,000 or imprisonment of not more than three years, or both, at the discretion of the court.

A bonding company put up Copley’s $2,500 bond the same day he was arrested, July 18.

Copley holds Seat 8 on the school board. He is in the middle of a four-year term that expires Dec. 31, 2022. This is Copley’s second time on the board. Voters first elected him to Seat 8 in 2010 after Charles King decided not to run again in order to become an assistant superintendent in another school district. King -- who is now the principal at Wateree Elementary School -- successfully took the seat back from Copley in 2014, but resigned two years later in order to become the principal of Midway Elementary School. Copley ran unopposed in a special election in 2016.

Copley is also a long-time local radiologist.

School board Chairman Dr. James Smith said that the district is aware of the charge against Copley.

“He, like all other citizens, has the right to defend himself against the allegations.  While this matter is pending and under the advisement of the district’s legal counsel, the district will not comment any further.  Additionally, we will not speculate about the outcome but at that appropriate time, the district will follow the guidance of legal counsel, board policy, state law, and the South Carolina Constitution.”

Neither the district nor Smith provided an explanation for Copley’s absence at the board’s Aug. 6 meeting, which precipitated a 4-4 tie on a vote to close North Central-area elementary schools.