Shoot First

A Columbia man shoots, an unarmed boy dies, the law shrugs
Richland County Sheriff's Office

From our neighbor to the south came this news Wednesday, from The State newspaper in Columbia:

In a potentially landmark state court ruling, a South Carolina judge — citing the state’s Stand Your Ground Act — has granted immunity from prosecution to a man charged with shooting and killing an unarmed bystander in a Columbia case.

“When the defendant fired the shot, he reasonably believed he was being attacked with deadly force directed at his home,” said a 12-page order by Circuit Judge Maite Murphy filed Wednesday afternoon.

The case involved the 2010 shooting of Darrell Niles, 17, a Keenan High School student and basketball player, who was across the street in a car when Shannon Scott, then 33, fired his handgun. Shortly before, an SUV filled with youths who had been threatening his 15-year-old daughter drove by his house and they fired shots, according to testimony in the case.

Smith then saw Niles’ 1992 Honda, and, believing its occupants posed a danger, fired his gun from his front yard across the street, hitting Niles in the head with a .380 bullet, killing him instantly. No evidence indicated Niles was a threat to Scott or his daughter …

According to Scott’s attorney, Todd Rutherford of Columbia, the law gives people in fear of their lives broad rights.

“Judge Murphy followed the law,” said Rutherford, a Democratic state representative who in 2006 helped write the law.

Someone like Scott who is put in a life-and-death situation “cannot be expected to shoot straight always because they are not supposed to have their life in jeopardy," Rutherford said at Scott’s three-day immunity hearing in mid-August …

Rutherford said Niles’ death is tragic but, “He simply ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

There’s no need to analyze why this situation is both insane and the logical consequence of a law that legalizes manslaughter, even murder, as long as the killer feels threatened. I’ll just point out a few things.

  • South Carolina’s Stand Your Ground law, like the 2005 Florida law that preceded it and became infamous through the George Zimmerman case, was based on the American Legislative Exchange Council’s “Castle Doctrine Act,” which I could not find on ALEC’s website. The version I found is from the Center for Media and Democracy’s ALEC Exposed site.
  • The Zimmerman case — which you probably know better as “the Trayvon Martin case,” as if Martin was the defendant, which in a sense he was — is the reason why people know about ALEC in the first place. Why? The Castle Doctrine Act was the basis for “self-defense with no duty to retreat” laws that since 2005 have been adopted in 33 states.
  • North Carolina is not one of those. Yet.
  • Shannon Scott had a sign in his window that read, “Fight Crime — Shoot First.”
Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest