SLED says hell no, we won't release Bobby Harrell mugshot

Mugshots in the Dark

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According to the Post and Courier, we won't be seeing the mugshot of indicted state Rep. Bobby Harrell anytime soon. The reason: SLED says that Harrell's one of the most powerful members of the illustrious S.C. General Assembly, and since he's running for re-election, they're afraid the mugshot will be used in a political ad.

OK. They didn't say that exactly, or even partially. But that's what everybody thinks.

The P&C reports: 
The State Law Enforcement Division is refusing to release a processing photograph taken of suspended House Speaker Bobby Harrell, saying that since he was not formally arrested or booked at a jail, it is part of their case file and not for public distribution.

Harrell, who faces nine criminal misdemeanor criminal ethics charges, was fingerprinted by SLED on Monday, said Thom Berry, an agency spokesman.

But Berry said the agency did not have to release the photo "until the case file is closed." He said he hadn't seen the shot and therefore could not describe it.
Of course, this struck me as rather odd.

See, SLED has also been investigating three Berkeley County School District officials, one of whom, Amy Kovach, was indicted weeks ago, and guess what, the P&C somehow was able to get access to her mugshot. Now, one would assume that mugshot came from SLED since they were investigating Kovach — at the very least SLED gave approval to release the photo to a lesser law enforcement body — but I could be wrong.

And so I reached out this morning to SLED spokesman Thom Berry to get some clarification on the apparent double standard.

Like Harrell, some believe that Kovach is the target of a politically motivated witch hunt, one that will benefit several different individuals, but most notably state Attorney General Alan Wilson, who is quickly building a case for himself as a corruption busting cop. Wilson already has one ethically challenged politico — former S.C. Lt. Gov. Ken Ard — under his belt, and I'm sure he'd like to add two more. 

Anyhow here's the email:
Hey Thom,

Chris Haire at the Charleston City Paper here. I'm a little confused, and admittedly, I may have my facts wrong, but both Berkeley County School District employee Amy Kovach and state Rep. Bobby Harrell were investigated by SLED and indicted, and, well, I noticed that Kovach's mugshot was released and Harrell's wasn't, even though both, and correct me if I'm wrong, are still being investigate by SLED and neither was, you know, formally arrested. Can you tell me why there is this apparent discrepancy? Some might call it a double standard and accuse SLED of playing politics, and honestly, I just want to put any talk of that to bed.
UPDATE: Thom Berry responds:
Good Morning, Chris.

I have no idea who may have released the photo of Amy Kovach. I’ll be happy to query our staff in the Low Country region to see if any of them have any knowledge of it.

I do not get “mug shots,” when our agents make an arrest. What comes to me is the arrest warrant and any affidavit that may go with the warrant. That’s why I always refer reporters and editors to the local detention centers for any photo they may have at the time of booking.

SLED’s policy and longtime practice is to not release any materials from an open case file. The case file remains open until either prosecutors decide not to bring charges or, if brought, the matter is heard in court. Once that’s done, the document becomes a public record and readily available under FOIA.

As I explained to the P & C yesterday, when there is a direct indictment, such as Harrell’s, there is no arrest warrant, no arrest and therefore, no need to process through a detention center’s booking desk. That’s why there is no “mug shot.”

A routine practice is for someone who is direct indicted to be fingerprinted when they appear for a bond hearing. As long as a law enforcement officer there has access to a finger printer, either ink or electronic, it can be done in the courthouse or other convenient location. We did take a photograph of Rep. Harrell for the file. While I have not seen it, I believe it would appear no different than hundreds of other photos of Rep. Harrell that are in media outlets throughout the Low Country.
UPDATE: Thom Berry has more information:
Hey, Chris…found out some additional information on the Kovach photo.

That photo was taken by and released by the Berkeley County Detention Center.

According to my regional captain, Kovach came to the courthouse for her bond hearing. Once that was done she went downstairs to the detention center booking area to be fingerprinted because that’s where the printer was located. While there, the detention center took her photograph. We didn’t request or need it.

Hope this helps.
I've also asked him:
Do you know the specifics of when and where Bobby Harrell was booked? I know it was in a Richland County Courthouse. Were the circumstances the same?
UPDATE: Berry replies:
There was no “booking.” He went to another office while in the courthouse Monday where we had a fingerprint machine available. His fingerprints were taken and we took a photo for the case file. He then left.

And I responded:
I tell you, I'm getting even more confused here.

Amy Kovach, who was under SLED investigation, was indicted but "booked" by Berkeley County, but Bobby Harrell, who was under SLED investigation, was indicted but not "booked." I'm hoping you can see why this is driving me batty. Both were targets of SLED investigations, investigations which led to their indictments, but the outcomes, while similar, are different. The question is, why was one "booked" and the other not?



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