Civil Rights group claims Colleton officials are not doing enough in the death of a local black man

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By HEATHER WALTERS 

A Civil Rights organization and the family of a dead Colleton County man held a press conference in Walterboro on Monday, asking that state and federal law enforcement entities get involved in what they are calling a suspicious death. 

Rev. William Brooks, Jr. was found dead on his Green Pond property in July of 2020. His body was located hanging out of a window in a shed on his property.  Initially, investigators with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office listed his death as accidental. 

An autopsy was also conducted on Brooks, stated that there was no foul play, was listed and the case was closed. 

However, Brooks’ family recently contacted The Racial Justice Network and asked for assistance in seeking justice in Brooks’ death. 

The Racial Justice Network was founded in August of 2020 by Elder James Johnson: Johnson is the founder and president of the network, which he created after resigning in July of 2020 as the state director of The National Action Network, another civil rights organization. 

Family members of Brooks are calling his death “suspicious,” and say they are not satisfied with how the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office handled the investigation into Brooks’ death. 

On Monday, Johnson and Brooks’ family held a joint press conference at the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office. Johnson was joined at the press conference by Andre Brooks, who represents the Brooks family. Together, the two men asked that local investigation into Brooks’ death be handed over to the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). 

“We are asking that SLED and the FBI get involved in this,” Johnson told this newspaper, prior to the press conference. “We believe this is a cover-up. The family is not satisfied with the investigation done by the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office. We are being told the window was pushed onto his neck, causing asphyxiation. We don’t believe that’s accurate,” he said. 

According to Andre Brooks, the circumstances surrounding his uncles’ death are too mysterious for the family to ignore. Brooks said his uncle was a pastor in the community for more than 40 years, and had no enemies. However, the family believes that his uncle was murdered and the suspect(s) are still at large. 

The History of the Case 

According to an incident report filed originally filed with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office on July 15, 2020, the sheriff’s office was notified about a missing person. A deputy went to the property, located on Wiggins Road in Green Pond. Information in the original report states that a deputy met with a family member of the missing person and obtained information from this person, who is listed as being Brooks’ sister. His sister then told the deputy that her brother was missing, but might be with a close friend who lived in Ridgeland. The Colleton County Sheriff’s Office then contacted the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office The missing person was not found with the Jasper County resident. 

Then, according to an incident report, Brooks was listed as a missing person with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office. The report also states there was a heat advisory at the time of his disappearance and the missing person was “diabetic.” An official investigation was launched. 

According to Andre Brooks, the first deputy who responded to the scene did not search the property for his uncle. Friends and family members who learned of Brooks’ disappearance came to his property and began searching for him. It was the friends and family members who located Brooks’ body, hanging out of a shed window. 

“The death was ruled accidental, but we truly don’t agree,” said Andre Brooks. “If you go with what the sheriff’s office is saying, he would have carried a cinder block almost 60 yards to a window to the shed, carried tools to the shed that were normally not there, and then climbed into a window to get inside the shed, when he had the keys to the shed hanging out of his pocket. We’re talking about a man who weighs more than 200 pounds and who was in his 70s. Why would he go through a window of a shed when you have the keys to the shed in your pocket? It doesn’t add up.” 

The Colleton County Coroner’s Office told the Brooks family that Brooks suffocated, said Andre Brooks. 

However, according to Colleton County Coroner Richard Harvey, Brooks died of positional asphyxia. This newspaper spoke to Harvey on Monday, following the press conference. 

Harvey confirmed the death has been ruled accidental. 

“We don’t believe he was trying to get into the window. We don’t believe it,” said Andre Brooks. “We believe he was murdered and this is a cover-up. The window that someone tried to put him in was too small … so the middle frame of the window was bent inward by about two inches.” 

According to Andre Brooks, nothing was stolen from the property or from inside the house. “My uncle was a pastor. He didn’t have any enemies,” he said. 

Andre Brooks also said that there is no body camera footage from the deputy who first responded to the scene. “This was not the proper due diligence at the scene. This was our loved one. The property wasn’t even searched for clues, to rule out foul play. None of that was done,” he said. 

Where Is the Investigation Now? 

The Colleton County Sheriff’s Office confirmed on Monday that the case is in the process of being handed over to SLED for further review. 

“Due to this being an ongoing investigation, we are unable to disclose additional details at this time. To continue our due diligence, the CCSO is handing this case over to SLED for further review,” said Shalane Lowes, spokeswoman for the local sheriff’s office. 

According to Heather Odom, secretary for The Racial Justice Network, the organization was contacted recently by the family of the deceased. 

“Our goal is to get more action on the investigation, and to accelerate what is being done on this case,” said Odom. “The family feels there is foul play and there needs to be more conversation around that.” 

The Racial Justice Network has chapters in South Carolina, Georgia, New York, Alabama and other chapters are being formed, according to Odom. 

Additionally, the Brooks family and Johnson met with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office last week about the case, prior to Monday’s press conference. However, Andre Brooks said his family was not “satisfied” with this meeting. Brooks said an investigator working on the case left the meeting, prompting the family to take more action.  

Brooks also said the Colleton County branch of the NAACP has requested that SLED also take the case. 

During a meeting with the family last week, Colleton County Sheriff’s Office officials said on Monday that they advised the family the case is being handed over to SLED. 

Because the case is still ongoing, no additional details on the case can be released, said Lowes. 

For more information on The Racial Justice Network and their work on this case, visit www.racialjusticenetworksc.org.

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