South Carolina Rioters Get Only Suspended Jail Time

Five S.C. unionists, known as the “Charleston Five,” have pled no contest to low-level misdemeanor charges of participating in a “riot, rout, or affray,” ending the possibility of prison terms.  Judge Victor Rawl of the S.C. Circuit Court, Ninth Circuit, sentenced all five to 30 days in jail but suspended the sentences upon the payments of $309 fines and fees.  Rawl sentenced Elijah Ford, Ricky Simmons, and Peter Washington on Nov. 13 and Kenneth Jefferson and Jason Edgerton on Nov. 7. The five are members of the Int’l Longshoremen’s Ass’n, were charged with rioting and conspiracy to riot following an informational picket Jan. 20, 2000, at the Port of Charleston. The unionists were protesting the use of a nonunion stevedoring company to unload a Danish freighter. Although police had arrested eight members on misdemeanor charges, S.C. Atty. Gen. Charlie Condon intervened and raised the charges against five of the dockworkers to rioting, which is a felony that carries a prison term of up to five years. Condon, who took over prosecution of the case, procured indictments from a grand jury, and a trial was scheduled for Nov. 14.

The five had been under house arrest for the last year and one-half and were prohibited from leaving their homes between 7PM and 7AM unless they were working or attending a union meeting. On Oct. 10, when Condon removed himself from the proceedings, the case was transferred to a local prosecutor, who reduced the charges to misdemeanors. Shortly thereafter, the curfew was lifted. [BNA 11/15/01]