by Paul Bowers
Nearly seven months after former CARTA Executive Director Christine Wilkinson was arrested in downtown Charleston last summer on a disorderly conduct charge, a prosecutor dropped the charge against Wilkinson.
The official legal term for what happened in a municipal court this January is nolle prosequi — that is, a prosecutor voluntarily stopped pursuing the charge, and Wilkinson never went to trial for it. City spokesperson Cameron Wolfsen explains in an email:
"The case was deferred for six months based on an agreement with Ms. Wilkinson's attorney that she would attend alcohol counseling and have no new arrests during this time. She satisfied these conditions, and the case was nolle prossed on Jan. 5, 2015."
According to a Charleston Police Department incident report, on June 17, 2014, at about 9:45 p.m., police were dispatched to Grill 225 at the Market Pavilion Hotel on East Bay Street "in reference to a possibly intoxicated driver." Officers arrived on the scene and spoke to door staff members who said that Wilkinson had driven her car up to the valet stand and "advised the staff that she was here to get ice cream." A staff member said he asked Wilkinson if she wanted to have her car valet parked or if she would like to rent a room at the hotel. She reportedly declined and drove away.
Another employee said Wilkinson returned in her vehicle two minutes later and told a staff member she was waiting for some friends to come out of the restaurant. The employee said she offered to go inside and find the friend if Wilkinson gave her the friend's name, but Wilkinson gave "a name that did not make any sense," according to the report.
"At this time, the offender ... became irritated at the door staff for offering to assist her," according to the report, and the door staff decided to call the police.
An officer approached Wilkinson in her car, where she was still sitting in the driver's seat and had "a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage emanating from [her] body and breath," according to the report. When the officer offered to check in the bar for her friends, Wilkinson gave an "incoherent" response, saying, "I don't know their names because it was just the in the crowd," according to the report. Another officer on the scene stated that he did not see Wilkinson driving her car or attempting to drive away.
The officer asked Wilkinson to step out of the vehicle, noted that she staggered in the roadway as she walked to the rear of her car, and arrested her on a charge of public disorderly conduct. At this point Wilkinson asked the officer "to let her go because she worked for Mayor Joe Riley and has given 20 years of her life to this city," according to the report. The officer said he could not do that, and Wilkinson replied, "You could give me a break if you wanted to," according to the report.
Wilkinson resigned from her position at CARTA three days after her arrest, and the Post and Courier reported in July 2014 that she received a $70,000 lump-sum severance package and was allowed to keep her CARTA-issued cell phone, laptop computer, and iPad.
Attorney Bill Thrower, who represented Wilkinson in the case, says the case took about six months to resolve partly because the prosecutor was looking into upgrading Wilkinson's charge from disorderly conduct to driving under the influence.
"I don't think it was a very strong case for DUI," Thrower says. "It just didn't fit. She was kind of asking for help and not really being obnoxious and trying to drive away. She was trying to get out of the car, actually, so they just determined it really wasn't that big of a deal."
When asked whether Wilkinson had received any special treatment, Thrower said, "Not at all. If the disorderly conduct is completely out of character and it's not even serious enough to warrant pre-trial intervention, if it's just some sort of mix-up with whatever kind of disorientation, something like that, a minor resolution like this would be to maybe have her attend a couple of counseling sessions."