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SC town seized $135 for each resident during traffic stops

GREENVILLE — One small South Carolina town along a popular route to the beach seized the equivalent of $135 for each of its residents in traffic stops over two years, an investigation by two newspapers found.

Police in Nichols took a total of $50,000 from people in 50 different traffic stops in 2014 and 2015, according to The Greenville News and Anderson Independent Mail.

Court records show only three of them were ever convicted of a crime, the newspapers reported in an installment of their "Taken" series , which is reviewing civil asset forfeiture cases in South Carolina.

The newspapers gathered court records on civil forfeiture from all 46 counties in South Carolina for the series and called every law enforcement agency in the state to see what they collected and how they spent seized assets. The series has led several lawmakers to back changing the law so money cannot be seized without a criminal conviction.

The officers involved in Nichols didn't talk to the newspaper. The traffic stops ended after Nichols suffered its first of two massive floods in 2016.

Many of the people pulled over in Nichols signed consent agreements stating they would not be charged or have to return to town to deal with a ticket if they gave up cash, said Solicitor Ed Clements, the elected prosecutor for the area.

Nichols is at the intersection of two highways heading toward the Myrtle Beach area.

"It's not as odd as you might think," Clements said. "They're going to the beach, and they're going to party."

Police departments have a vested interest in civil forfeiture laws since they get to keep the money seized. Without that reward, many officers probably wouldn't investigate drug crimes as hard, South Carolina Sheriff's Association Executive Director Jarrod Bruder told the newspapers.

If police don't get to keep the money from forfeiture, "what is the incentive to go out and make a special effort?" Bruder said. "What is the incentive for interdiction?"

The newspapers also found seized money is important to a number of police agencies. They called each agency in South Carolina to see what they do with the assets.

The city of Clemson uses the money to pay for police dogs and its drug unit, Police Chief Jimmy Dixon said.

"Overall, our ability to conduct undercover narcotics operations could be stifled," Dixon said.

Several legislators told the newspapers they plan introduce bills on Wednesday to reform civil asset forfeitures rules. One would create a database of seized asset cases. Another would require a conviction before law enforcement got the money.

The newspapers found law enforcement agencies seized $17 million over three years and about 65 percent of the people targeted for civil asset forfeiture from 2014 to 2016 were black males by reviewing records from all 46 South Carolina counties.

The newspapers also found nearly 20 percent of the more than 4,000 people who had money or items seized over three years were never charged with a crime, and another one in five were found not guilty or had charges dismissed.

"We need as much transparency as possible when the government seizes someone's property. It has to be done properly and for just cause. Individuals do not need to have their property seized if they are not involved in a crime and they certainly don't need to have their property seized if they are innocent," Republican Rep. Jason Elliott of Greenville told the newspapers.

There also needs to be review of how police handle cases, said Republican Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort, who has already filed a bill to allow cases where less than $7,500 is seized to be handled in magistrate court, where it is easier for someone to act as their own lawyer.

"It goes to the very individuals that make the arrests and seizures," Davis said. "I think that's a bad policy. There shouldn't be a monetary incentive."

2020 hopeful Gillibrand immerses herself in early voting SC

NORTH CHARLESTON — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York immersed herself in South Carolina over the weekend, using her first trip to the state to introduce herself as a possible presidential candidate to the heavily black Democratic electorate.

From a house party and Main Street market to "chicken and waffles" and worship, Gillibrand's stops encompassed a broad universe of Democrats in this early voting state who are crucial to candidates seeking the party's nomination for president.

Three days is a significant time investment at this stage in the campaign, as a wide field of candidates sprint among early voting states to raise their profiles and attempt to differentiate themselves. Gillibrand's visit culminated with visits to several black churches in North Charleston, where she spoke about the importance of faith.

At a Saturday luncheon organized by the daughter of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Gillibrand introduced herself to about two-dozen attendees, mostly women, giving her viewpoints on environmental issues, health care reform and education disparities.

"I think America's up to the challenge" of addressing those issues, she said, "but we just need leadership."

Gillibrand, who has formed an exploratory committee but has yet to launch an official campaign, is on the fringes of entering a diverse field, including two black candidates. South Carolina holds the first presidential vote in the South and has become a crucial proving ground for candidates gauging how their messaging resonates with black voters.

In 2016, nonwhite voters comprised about two-thirds of the state's Democratic primary electorate, according to data provided by the South Carolina Election Commission.

Ahead of Saturday's brunch, Gillibrand, 52, took a turn down Columbia's Main Street, stopping to ask college students about the issues most critical to them, such as the cost of higher education and student loan debt.

A few feet away, fifth-grader Joemari Ellison asked Gillibrand if she'd be willing to listen to kids on issues that matter to them. To 10-year-old Joemari, one of those is litter, as well as programs for gifted and talented students.

"My plan is to listen to kids, because I think kids often know what's going on in your community," Gillibrand said. "I look forward to working for you."

Later, at Kiki's Chicken and Waffles, a minority-owned restaurant that has become known as a must-hit spot for Democratic candidates visiting Columbia, Gillibrand sat in the middle of long tables filled with mostly black businessowners, whom she asked to share their primary concerns. After assurance from the restaurant owner that it was acceptable to eat the plate of fried chicken with her fingers, Gillibrand finished up her pitch as she ate.

"It's not fair for wealthy areas to have more resources," Gillibrand said, adding that "institutional racism" is to blame for some minority-owned businesses struggling to obtain the funding necessary to grow their companies. "I will continue to build on that, to make sure that there's more access to capital for businesses of color."

Marlon Walters, a Bank of America executive, said he hadn't made up his mind about next year's Democratic primary but took to heart Gillibrand's commitment to working toward solutions for some of the black community's struggles.

"She really hit a lot of my pain points, when she hit on companies not really being concerned about the bottom line but really pouring back into the people that helped them make their money," he said, adding of Gillibrand: "I'm really impressed so far."

After Kiki's, Gillibrand headed to Greenville, where she attended an Urban League gala. Sunday brought visits to several black churches in North Charleston. At Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist, Gillibrand addressed the congregation, summoning a fiery cadence likely unrelated to her own Catholic upbringing, but one that spurred shouts of "Amen!" from the crowd of several hundred.

"I love the fact that your Bibles are under your seat," she said. "When you go on a plane, and they say, your life preserver is under your seat -- OUR life preservers are under our seat!"

"Somebody out there say, Amen! Somebody out there say, Praise the Lord! Somebody out there say, Hallelujah!" Rev. Byron Benton said, as Gillibrand took her seat, many parishioners on their feet, clapping.

As more candidates venture into the state and its black churches in the coming months, Charleston County Democratic Chairman Brady Quirk-Garvan said voters are glad to welcome hopefuls but want to hear substantive ideas.

"Just making the visit isn't enough anymore," Quirk-Garvan said. "If you can't connect on that personal level, you're going to have a hard time connecting at all."

Possible impeachment could further upend Virginia politics

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia lawmakers today will reluctantly face the unprecedented prospect of impeaching the state's second most powerful leader as they struggle to address revelations of past racist behavior and allegations of sexual assault roiling its highest levels of office.

At least one lawmaker said he will try to pursue impeachment of Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax after two women accused Fairfax of sexual assault in the 2000s, a move that experts believe would be a first in Virginia. Fairfax has vehemently denied the claims and called for authorities, including the FBI, to investigate.

There's little sign of broad appetite for impeachment, with lawmakers set to finish this year's session by the month's end. But the Legislature is swirling with questions about lines of succession and the political fallout for Democrats should the governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general leave office, willingly or not.

Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, both Democrats, are embroiled in their own scandal after acknowledging they wore blackface in the 1980s. Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said Sunday that he considered resigning but that he's "not going anywhere" because the state "needs someone that can heal" it.

Northam said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that it's been a difficult week since a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced, showing a person wearing blackface next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. Northam initially said he was in the photo, then denied it the next day, while acknowledging that he did wear blackface to a dance party that same year.

"Virginia needs someone that can heal. There's no better person to do that than a doctor," Northam said. "Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass. And that's why I'm not going anywhere."

The scandals have become a full-blown crisis for Virginia Democrats. Although the party has taken an almost zero-tolerance approach to sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era, a housecleaning in Virginia could be costly: If all three Democrats resigned, Republican state House Speaker Kirk Cox would become governor.

Political considerations will be key to what comes next. Virginia is among a handful of states electing lawmakers this year, and Democrats had hoped to flip the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Democratic Del. Patrick Hope said he wants to introduce articles of impeachment today against Fairfax. Meredith Watson and Vanessa Tyson have accused him of sexual assault and offered to testify at any impeachment hearing.

Watson alleges Fairfax raped her while they were students at Duke University in 2000, her attorney said in a statement. Tyson, a California college professor, accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex on him at a Boston hotel in 2004.

The lieutenant governor issued a statement Saturday again denying he ever sexually assaulted anyone and making clear he does not intend to immediately step down. Instead, he urged authorities to investigate.

"Frankly, we really want any entity with comprehensive investigative power to thoroughly look into these accusations," Fairfax spokeswoman Lauren Burke said. "There needs to be verification of basic facts about these allegations. It feels like something bigger is going on here."

Some political observers said it's possible impeachment would move forward in the House of Delegates — even if the threshold to start the process is remarkably high. However, lawmakers are set to leave town before February ends and may lack the time and resources to immediately take on the complicated issue.

"A clear sign of the depth of LG Fairfax's political crisis is the near-absence of voices in Virginia politics this weekend publicly urging him to remain in office," University of Mary Washington political science professor Stephen Farnsworth said in an email.

If the Legislature is in session, the House would need a simple majority to vote to impeach Fairfax, said A.E. Dick Howard, a University of Virginia law professor. The Senate would then review evidence and hear testimony. That chamber would need a two-thirds vote to convict among senators who are present.

Meanwhile, the attorney general's future is unknown. Herring, who acknowledged wearing blackface at a party in 1980, would become governor if both Northam and Fairfax left office. Herring has apologized but has not indicated he would resign, despite his initial forceful call for the governor to step down.

Asked Sunday for his opinion on his subordinates, Northam told CBS that it's up to them to decide whether they want to stay in office. He said he supports Fairfax's call for an investigation into the sexual assault allegations. Of Herring, he said that "just like me, he has grown."

"It's obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do," Northam said. "There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity."

George Franklin Kemp III -- Orangeburg

ORANGEBURG -- Mr. George Franklin Kemp III, 59, husband of Janice Davis Kemp, died Feb. 8, 2019 at the Regional Medical Center.

The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, at Fogle-Hungerpiller Funeral Home in Elloree. The Rev. David Mitchell will officiate. Burial will be in the Trinity Lutheran Cemetery of Elloree.

Pallbearers are James Allan Davis, Tony Wade Tucker, Sebastian Colbourne, Jeremie Bozard, Darrian "Cadillac" Walker, William Young, Tommy Corbett, and Bobby Allen Mitchell.

The family will receive friends prior to the service, at the funeral home from 10 - 11 a.m.

Mr. Kemp was born July 28, 1959, in Damascus, Maryland. He was the son of George Franklin Kemp Jr. and Nancy Jean Howard Kemp Meadows. He was employed by Superior Motors of Orangeburg.

He is survived by his wife, Janice Davis Kemp of Orangeburg; one daughter, Kelly Marie Kemp of Elloree; his father, George Franklin Kemp Jr. (Carol); his mother, Nancy Jean Howard Kemp Meadows (Dale); two brothers, James Phillips and Steven Kemp; two sisters, Cindee Wolford and Kathy Kemp. He is also survived by his former wife and mother of his children, Vicky Parker.

He was predeceased by his son, George Franklin "Bubba" Kemp IV.

Friends may call at his residence, 615 Rosewood Drive, Orangeburg; or the residence of his daughter, 644 Three Bridges Road, Elloree, and the Fogle-Hungerpiller Funeral Home of Elloree.

Eddie Willis -- Orangeburg

ORANGEBURG -- Mr. Eddie Willis, 41, of Orangeburg passed away on Feb. 8, 2019, at the Regional Medical Center.

A funeral service will be held at noon, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, at Miracle Faith Temple, 145 Delaware Drive in Orangeburg. Burial will be held in the church cemetery.

Assisting the family is Brown & Son Funeral Home, 5901 West Jim Bilton Boulevard, St. George, SC 843-563-4332.

Avonette Owens -- St. Matthews

ST. MATTHEWS -- Ms. Avonette Owens, of 204 Caw Caw Highway, St. Matthews, died Saturday at Palmetto Richland Hospital of Columbia.

Funeral plans will be announced by Carson Funeral Home of St. Matthews

Friends may call at the residence of her parents , Mr. and Mrs. James (Mary Robinson) Owens, 204 Caw Caw Highway, St. Matthews, and at the funeral home.

Henri Bernard Smoak -- Orangeburg

ORANGEBURG -- Mr. Henri Bernard Smoak, 56, of 3292 Hart St., Orangeburg, passed away Feb. 9, 2019.

Funeral services are incomplete and will be announced later by Simmons Funeral Home and Crematory of Orangeburg.

Friends may call at the residence of his wife, Mrs. Wanda Glover Harmon Smoak, between the hours of 3 and 8 p.m. daily, at 3292 Hart St., Orangeburg.

Online condolences may be sent to