SC Grants ‘Stand Your Ground’ Immunity To Man Who Shot At Teen Girls And Killed A Black Bystander
In 2010, Shannon Anthony Scott, then 33, was arrested for the murder of 17-year-old Darrell Andre Niles, an unarmed black teen who was found shot to death in his car around 2:30 am on April 18 of that year.
However, Richland County Judge Maite Murphy has thrown out those charges, ruling on Wednesday that Scott reasonably believed his life was in danger and is therefore immune from prosecution by the state’s 2006 Protection of Persons and Property ACT, South Carolina’s version of “Stand Your Ground”, a law that gives private citizens the right to use deadly force whenever and wherever they feel threatened.
A Dangerous Legal Precedent
Scott, who had intended to shoot at a car full of teen girls on the street outside his home (I address this absurdity further down), says he shot Niles, who was also parked outside, by mistake.
That the victim was an innocent bystander rather than one of the alleged “aggressors” sets a new precedent for the application of Stand Your Ground, which can now shield people who are bad shots and accidentally shoot a bystander, from prosecution.
As 5th Circuit Assistant Solicitor April Sampson warned over the summer, a decision in favor of Scott marks “the first time any state in this Union” has awarded Stand Your Ground immunity in the killing of an innocent bystander.
“If this law were to be applied the way (Scott) wants to apply it, he could shoot a 4-year-old playing in her front yard and still be immune from prosecution,” she said, adding that it would transform South Carolina into “the Wild, Wild West.”
One Absurd Argument After Another
Scott’s attorney, Democratic State Rep. Todd Rutherford who voted for the 2006 law, argued in an August hearing that Scott was simply protecting his teenage daughter and her girlfriends from an SUV full of teen girls—or as he referred to them, “women thugs”—who had followed them home that night. That’s right, Scott, a grown man, felt that an intimidating group of teenage girls warranted firing gunshots into the night.
Rutherford’s defense of Scott’s behavior, as reported by The State, spiraled into further ridiculousness with each passing argument, which I’ll address one by one.
On their way home, his daughter telephoned Scott to tell him they were being followed. He met them outside and told them to go and lie down on the kitchen floor while he went outside with a pistol.
It is unreasonable to expect that Scott is required “to go back into his house, in his castle … and hope that the cavalry (police) are going to come … . All that matters is that Mr. Scott felt his life was in jeopardy. We know that because everyone there felt their lives were in jeopardy,” Rutherford said.
Perhaps Scott’s daughter and Scott himself reasonably believed that a car full of teen girl bullies were a threat to their lives. Even so, since when is it acceptable for a parent to point their loaded gun at child bullies? The fact that Scott, an adult, felt immediately inclined to resolve a dispute between children by shooting at them is criminal.
Rutherford acknowledged that Niles was an innocent bystander, who in all probability was on the scene because he intended to help Scott’s daughter.
Does this mean Niles, the child whose life Scott stole, was a friend of his daughter?
The real villains in this case, Rutherford said, are the carload of teens that followed Scott’s daughter and her friends home from a club. They should be charged with “felony murder,” a charge that means that they caused Niles’ death, even though Scott was the one who put the bullet in his head, Rutherford said.
That is the same principle applied in cases in which a store owner who shoots and mistakenly kills a bystander during an armed robbery, Rutherford said. The store owner isn’t charged with the bystander’s murder, but the robber is, Rutherford said.
What exactly was the felony these “women thugs” had committed? Armed robbery and alleged bullying aren’t even close to the same thing. Still, it gets worse:
When someone like Scott, in fear for his life, shoots his gun, “they cannot be expected to shoot straight always because they are not supposed to have their life in jeopardy,” Rutherford said.
To suggest that private citizens armed with the capacity to end people’s lives at the pull of a trigger are excused from prosecution for murder simply because it’s beyond their capacity to aim properly is absurd. Even more disturbing is what Rutherford is implying, that if Scott had successfully struck his intended targets (teenage girls) instead of Niles, he would have been fully in his right to do so. Why? Because:
Scott was fearful of a drive-by at the time he fired his gun at Niles’ 1992 Honda, and he was “faced with what he thought was an imminent threat” from Niles’ car, Rutherford said.
Scott Waited 4 Days To Tell Police He Shot Niles
The State reports “Rutherford presented witnesses who said someone fired a shot at Scott before he fired.” However, police say that based on the statements they took from witnesses on the scene the night of the shooting, it was Scott who fired first and it’s unclear whether anyone even fired back at Scott.
On top of that, Scott did not give police his name that night and failed to tell them he had fired his gun. It wasn’t until four days after he killed Niles that Scott turned himself in.
Keep in mind that we are talking about a man who, according Sampson, “had a sign in his window saying ‘Fight Crime – Shoot First.’”
Nevertheless, Judge Murphy sided with Scott. “I hearby conclude that the Defendant is entitled to the grant of immunity under the Act because he and his family were clearly under attack,” she wrote in a 12-page order filed Wednesday afternoon. “The Legislature clearly did not intend for any father to stand idly by as his family lay on the kitchen floor in fear of being shot and killed.”
Solicitor Dan Johnson has since appealed Murphy’s ruling to the state Supreme Court.
The Race Factor
I am curious about and currently looking into the racial makeup of the girls who allegedly followed Scott’s daughter home, particularly given the racially loaded terms used by Rutherford to describe them (i.e. “women thugs” who Scott feared were planning to commit a “drive-by”). This is, of course, pure speculation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Scott, a seemingly white man, feared these teens because they were nonwhite and therefore considered inherently violent.
On a side note, I realize Scott doesn’t necessarily look white, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t benefit from white supremacy/privilege that our criminal justice system was built on, especially given that his victim was a young black male.
The problem with a law like Stand Your Ground is that it excuses and encourages deadly force against “perceived” threats. In the United States, where implicit and structural racism persists on a vast scale, is it wise to empower people who almost certainly have irrational and racist fears, to kill instead of call police who are trained (at least they’re supposed to be) to deal with potential threats?
Race also appears to play a significant role in whether a homicide is deemed justifiable. A recent study conducted by John Roman of the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center found, “the odds that a white-on-black homicide is ruled to have been justified is more than 11 times the odds a black-on-white shooting is ruled justified,” a reflection of the racial disparities that plague all aspects of the US criminal justice system.
More People Invoking Stand Your Ground
Meanwhile, The State reported over the summer, just one month after George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict, that the invocation of South Carolina’s Stand Your Ground law is on the rise.
In the past six weeks, two other Richland County murder trials have been delayed indefinitely because defendants – both of whom have admitted killing their victims – have raised the immunity defense and their cases are now on appeal. They are:
• James Bethel Jr., charged with murder in the Aug. 18, 2012, shooting death of Gawayne Franklin at Mr. Lucky’s club on Broad River Road
• Greg Isaac, charged with murder in the 2005 shooting death of Antonio Corbitt after breaking into Corbitt’s apartment at 3200 Fernandina Road. Isaac said he was threatened by his fellow burglar with death if he didn’t go along with the crime. And he said Corbitt was attacking him.
According to the S.C. Supreme Court’s clerk’s office, nine of the 23 criminal cases now before the Supreme Court involve appeals from Stand Your Ground hearings.
Those nine immunity cases come from across the state.