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Does “Stand Your Ground” law apply to North Charleston shooting over alleged stolen car?

According to the Protection of Persons and Property Act, also known as the “Stand Your Ground” law, a person has the ability to protect himself or herself, even through the use of deadly force, if someone else is unlawfully and forcefully entering a home or occupied vehicle, or if someone is removing or attempting to remove another person against his will from the home or occupied vehicle.

Attorney Ryan Schwartz of Thrower and Schwartz said, “You can meet deadly force with deadly force. If we’re in a fist fight and you pull a knife out, then that becomes an elevated threat. I could use deadly force because a reasonable person would see that as a threat to their life.”

He said this defense can’t always be used. “You’re actually not allowed to elevate the force to deadly force.”

Schwartz said it’s legal to protect your home and your vehicle; only if you’re inside of it. “If you are occupying that vehicle, it is considered an extension of your home, and you can use deadly force. If someone enters your vehicle, it’s assumed they’re trying to cause harm to you. However, if you catch someone trying to break into your vehicle, that doesn’t necessarily arise to the assumption that there’s going to be deadly force used and I would advise that you call 911 and not use deadly force to protect a car.”

Former foster mom concerned SC child back with parents facing misconduct charges

A child who suffered 16 broken bones as a baby spent the last 48 hours back with his parents.

Despite winning custody, the battle over 22-month-old Foxx is not over yet and there’s still concerns over his safety and wellbeing.

The child’s parents are still facing criminal charges in the case. Ashley Joyner and Josh Coker were arrested in June 2017 on child abuse allegations.

Foxx was in protective custody until this week, when a judge ordered the Department of Social Services give the child back to his parents immediately. The judge ruled DSS witness testimony was not credible and closed the case.

One of Foxx’s former foster parents, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she was disheartened by the outcome in family court. The woman said she fostered Foxx for 11 months.

“I really truly feel on this case they (DSS) dropped the ball and it’s their job to prove that this child was harmed through abuse and they didn’t do it,” she said. “If he had rickets, broken bones fine but how do you explain the fact that he still had brain bleed in his head and evidence of shaken baby syndrome?”

On Thursday, the family’s defense attorneys, Ryan Schwartz and Bill Nixon, celebrated the reunion between Foxx and his parents. They maintain their client’s innocence and through their investigation, they believe Foxx’s injuries were the result of a medical condition, metabolic bone disease, and not abuse. They both had harsh words about how DSS handled the case.

“For almost two years DSS refused to provide any sort of plan or any sort of method for them to be able to work to get Foxx back, they just completely ignored them, completely assumed that this was child abuse from day one,” Nixon said. “The expert that they had, who is not an expert in bone disease, who is not an expert in orthopedics, did not bring in any of the x-ray evidence to look at to try and figure out what exactly happened in this case.”

Schwartz said he feels the trigger was pulled way too early in this case and little effort was put into a resolution.

“It’s a broken system, they are broken and it comes from the top,” said Schwartz. “You have people at DSS who don’t know the case, who have never reviewed a medical record, who have never spoken to any of the witnesses, who have never spoken to an expert witness, who read a case maybe a four or five-page report from somebody who is on the ground and they say, ‘Well you’ve got to try this case’.”

While the former foster mother said she can’t explain what happened, she said this case exposes some real flaws in the social system. She points to Coker’s criminal past as a red flag.

“It’s very disheartening, the whole situation is sad,” she said. “I feel sad for his parents, you know, I wish them the best but you know he has a criminal history. I mean, he’s got a violent past did anybody take that into effect?”

Coker pleaded guilty to criminal sexual misconduct with a minor back in 2010 and was arrested on assault and battery charges in 2012 and 2013.

Schwartz said his criminal record was not admissible in the custody case, he cited the pending criminal charges as the reason why.

The solicitor’s office will ultimately make the decision to continue with the criminal case against the couple, but no court date has been scheduled at this time.

DSS officials have not yet released a statement on the matter or what steps may be taken as a result.

Child ordered returned to parents after abuse investigation

The Dept. of Social Services has been ordered a 22-month-old child returned to his parents’ custody, after the boy was taken from the Johns Island couple in 2017.

The boy was placed in protective custody amid law enforcement suspicions of child abuse over the discovery of 16 bone fractures during a May 2017 emergency room visit.

Ryan Schwartz, an attorney for parents Ashley Joyner and Joshua Coker, says he was able to prove in court Wednesday, Jan. 30, the child’s injuries were the result of a “medical conditions.”

The child, two months old at the time, was rushed to a hospital in May 2017 when his parents discovered unusual swelling in one of the boy’s legs.

An MUSC doctor at the time said the child’s injuries were likely caused by twisting and pulling, as opposed to accidental falls or a metabolic bone disease.

Accordingly, Charleston County Sheriff’s Office charged Joyner and Coker with unlawful conduct toward a child.

Schwartz said there was “never any bruises or ANY evidence of child abuse,” in a written message posted on his Facebook page.

DSS sought to permanently remove the parents’ custody rights. Instead, a judge ordered the agency to return the child to the parents’ custody immediately, and pay for a year of counseling for the family, Schwartz says.

“People told me this was not a winnable case,” Schwartz said. “They were wrong and we proved them wrong. It was clear from day one this child had medical conditions that caused the breaks and we proved that in court.”

Lawyers for deceased murder suspect say they would have proven self-defense at trial

It’s been nearly three years since Goose Creek Police found two men shot to death and buried behind a home.

The discovery shocked the Lowcountry, but the case will never go to trial.

It was officially closed when James Edward Loftis, the man charged with the murders, died on Dec. 2.

Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury ruled his death a suicide.

Even in death, they stand by their client and maintain he acted in self-defense. They are confident the truth would have come out in trial and on Thursday, divulged the details that would have come out if it had made it in front of a jury.

“He had remorse from day one, he didn’t want to do this,” said Harris. “He called his wife and told her what happened. His wife called the police.”

On March 5, 2016, officials were called to the home on South Pandora Drive. In the backyard, they discovered the remains of two men who were dismembered, burned, and buried in a shallow grave.

Loftis immediately took responsibility and admitted to shooting and killing Guma Oz Dubar, 46, and James Cody Newland, 32. Loftis told police Dubar picked him up in a taxi cab from Charleston strip club Stilettos that night, Newland accompanied Dubar for the trip. When they arrived at his home, Loftis said they robbed him.

“(They) targeted him and drove him home, waited for the opportunity for him to pass out and were kicking in the door and he woke up,” Schwartz said.

Harris and Schwartz said Loftis shot and killed the men at the entrance inside his home. A police report stated one of the investigators reported no signs of forced entry, but both attorneys said pictures taken of the front door during their own investigation prove otherwise.

“Someone had kicked that door to the point where, the frame itself was broken,” Harris said. “Inside the cracks of the door was blood from the victims. Therefore, if that door was intact when (Loftis) opened that door, there’s no way to put blood into cracks.”

Harris said the photos also show a dusty footprint on the front of the door, but the footprint was a size 12, much larger than Loftis’ foot size. He feels this was a key piece of evidence largely ignored, which he uncovered during cross-examination at the preliminary hearing two years ago.

“There was one picture taken of that door frame and of the striker plate and that was taken the next day by a person that was just an officer that was just there and that picture was later destroyed,” said Harris. “I said ‘Did you see signs of forced entry?’ and he said ‘No’ and so I said ‘Did you look at the door?’ and he said ‘No’. They (police) went on from the beginning that this was him letting them in the door, so they didn’t look at the door.”

“It was an unassuming investigation, they had tunnel vision,” Schwartz said. “They had burned bodies in the backyard, they were more interested in that.”

It’s unclear why Loftis opened the door, but Harris said it doesn’t matter if he invited them inside or if the door was forced open, if Loftis felt a threat inside his home, it’s a legit Castle Doctrine defense.

“Just because you open a door for somebody while they’re kicking it in doesn’t mean you’re inviting them in your house.”

The most compelling and puzzling piece of evidence they don’t deny—the burning and dismembering of the bodies afterwards.

“The desecration of the bodies, it is what it is, we were willing to face that,” Schwartz said.

In his statement to police, Loftis said he freaked out, panicked, and tried to hide the evidence in order to protect his family. Disposing of human remains in such a way might not make sense to most people, but Harris said it shouldn’t overshadow what took place before, adding a premeditated motive doesn’t make sense either.

“Nobody knows how they’re going to react after they’ve just shot two people,” Harris said. “To tell me somebody that’s 39 with a good job they’ve had for 20 years and a family, all of a sudden wakes up when his life leaves town and says ‘You know what, today I’m going to go out and kill two people’, that doesn’t make sense.”

Since all three-people involved are now deceased, no one will ever know what actually happened that night, but they have their theories and believe it all began at the strip club Loftis visited that night.

“He was set up by one of the dancers,” said Schwartz. “I can’t prove that but we have evidence we believe leads to that (conclusion) that they were in cahoots with these two guys. They picked out a guy who was single, he was there by himself, he didn’t have friends with him.”

It’s unclear how Loftis connected with Dubar, cellphone records do not show correspondence between the two or that Loftis dialed any cab company from his cellphone.

“This wasn’t a legal cab, this wasn’t a cab where you call and they show up, this is a cab that basically takes people to and from strip clubs,” Harris said. “The guy was out on bond for attempted murder and he had this cab that he would drive and pick up people.”

Dubar was facing charges for an attempted murder on January 13, 2015. Court records classify the case as dismissed by reason of defendant’s death.

Harris said a handwritten letter Loftis received in jail supports their belief Loftis was likely targeted.

“She was a dancer who we believe was the one that, if it happened, put something in his drink,” said Harris. “She was the dancer that night. She also happened to be the girlfriend of the driver that took Eddie home. The letter [it was an apology], it says she wants to right the wrong she did.”

The letter did not include any specific details about her level of involvement, but did state she was in rehab and going through a 12-step program. She signed her name with a smiley face.

The news of Loftis’ suicide came as a shock to both. Schwartz said he talked to him four days before his death, he seemed worried but not in any state of distress.

“There was a civil lawsuit against him, a wrongful death lawsuit that the insurance company denied,” Schwartz said. “He called me, he was very worried about the fact that they had denied him coverage, he was worried that his family was going to get sued.”

“I think he sacrificed himself because he cared that much about his family,” Harris said. “It’s some of the worst days that I’ve ever had and not just because I was sad for him and his family but because we were going to win this, we were going to exonerate him.”

Loftis’ family did not want to be interviewed, but Harris and Schwartz said they felt compelled to release the case information and want people to know Loftis was a good man, a kind man, and completely devoted to his family.

Whichever way the case would have turned out, the lives of three families were forever changed that night

CRIME & COURTS ICE may deport Mexican-born ‘dreamer’ acquitted of rape of USC student

Carlos Hernandez was acquitted by a Richland County jury of raping a University of South Carolina student off campus after both had been drinking heavily in Five Points.

Ordinarily, Hernandez, 24, of Batesburg-Leesville, would have been set free and tried to rebuild his future.

But he is Mexican-born, was smuggled into the United States as a small child and has no permanent legal status. After the acquittal, Hernandez was immediately taken into custody and held for federal immigration officials, his lawyer told The State newspaper on Friday.

 “He is now sitting in Lumpkin, Ga., in the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) holding area waiting for his deportation hearing,” lawyer Aimee Zmroczek said.

The privately run federal facility in southwestern rural Georgia has roughly 1,700 beds and the highest deportation rate of any such facility in the country, according to the Marshall Project, a nonpartisan group that researches and publishes stories about the criminal justice system.

Hernandez turned himself in February 2016 following the sexual encounter on Jan. 30, 2016. Once he was charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, his long-term visa status was revoked, even though a jury found him not guilty June 30, Zmroczek said. It took that jury less than two hours to acquit Hernandez, she said.

Between February 2016 and his June trial, Hernandez was held in the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center. Last October he was tried, but a Richland County jury deadlocked. That led to the second trial last month.

Hernandez has hired an immigration lawyer in Georgia and will have to go before an immigration judge and ask to get his status back, Zmroczek said.

If he loses his bid, “He’ll be deported immediately – and his whole family is still here,” Zmroczek said.

Hernandez had legal status and was a “dreamer” under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama-era initiative that protects eligible illegal immigrants who were brought here as children, Zmroczek said. In Hernandez’s case, he was brought across the border with Mexico in a car trunk at age 4 to join his parents, who were already in Batesburg-Leesville and living legally, she said.

“He was on his way to getting permanent citizenship,” Zmroczek said. Hernandez had graduated from high school, attended Spartanburg Methodist College, where he had a soccer scholarship, and had a job with a pipe-laying company when he was arrested, she said.

He paid taxes, had a Social Security number, had no criminal history and lived with his parents, the attorney said.

The sexual assault case was basically Hernandez’s word against that of the USC student.

He and the woman, who did not know each other before their brief encounter, admitted to a night of drinking with friends – each said they had about six drinks – in Five Points, according to evidence at both trials. Later that night near the university’s Capstone, they had sex in a dark alley.

Hernandez told the jury the sex was consensual.

The woman testified that he pressed something hard against her back, told her it was a gun and forced her into the alley where he raped her.

Surveillance videos do not capture the sexual encounter, but show the woman and a friend leaving Five Points with Hernandez headed in the same direction. Lawyers on opposing sides say the videos support their clients’ version of events. DNA taken from the woman matched that of Hernandez.

The State newspaper generally does not identify people who bring charges in sexual assault cases.

The jury of nine women and three men was out less than two hours during the second trial, said Zmroczek, who tried the case with fellow attorney Ryan Schwartz.

Prosecution attorneys were Carter Potts, John Steadman and Sandra Moser. Judge George McFaddin presided over the case.

Fifth Circuit solicitor Dan Johnson did not respond to a request for comment.