Charleston attorney Andy Savage has less than three weeks of preparation left to formulate his defense of suspended Colleton County Sheriff Robert A. Strickland.
Strickland’s jury trial on a charge of second-degree domestic violence is set to take place the week of March 23 in the Colleton County Courthouse before visiting Circuit Court Judge R. Ferrell Cothran.
Savage said the pending trial “is not a complex case” and he does not expect a lengthy trial.
In fact, he suggests it is possible that picking the jury might take longer than the trial.
Soon Savage said he expects to file a motion with the court asking the judge to allow for more questions for the potential jurors during the jury selection process.
He seeks the additional questions because the high-profile case has generated a lot of newspaper articles and television coverage. The questions would allow him to determine what the potential jurors know about the case.
Because of the pre-trial publicity, Savage could ask for a change of venue — to have the case tried outside Colleton County.
He could but likely won’t seek to move the trial elsewhere. “I don’t do that anymore,” he said.
Savage points out he did not seek a change of venue when he defended North Charleston Police Department Patrolman Michael Slager in the federal court trial concerning the fatal shooting of Walter Scott in 2015.
Savage said he won’t be interested in how many articles the juror read, how many televised reports they have seen. He will seek jurors who “can keep an open mind,” who saw the media reports “but will base their decision on sworn testimony.”
Shortly after Strickland was indicted on the charge in November, he retained Savage to represent him. One of Savage’s first moves was to file a motion seeking a speedy trial.
The general concensus was that Savage sought to have Strickland defend himself as quickly as possible to enable Strickland to file for re-election if he was acquitted of the charge. The filing period for running in the Republican and Democratic primaries begins on March 16 and closes at noon on March 30. The primaries will be held on June 9.
Savage agreed that the possible return to the sheriff’s office and a run for another term was a main factor in the search for a speedy trial. He said his preliminary examination of the facts as presented in the arrest warrant led him to believe that Strickland’s alleged action did not support a second-degree domestic violence charge. Savage said it is “a pretext charge. They wanted to get him booted out of office.”
The possibility of Strickland being able to return to office and possibly run again seemed to evaporate on Feb. 18 when South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced that Strickland had been indicted on 15 criminal charges following an investigation of Strickland by the South Carolina State Grand Jury.
A representative of the attorney general’s office said the investigation that led to the indictments, which include multiple counts of misconduct in office and embezzlement, began well before the sheriff was arrested on the domestic violence charge.
On Nov. 7, Strickland allegedly assaulted his live-in girlfriend, punching her several times in the face. In addition to receiving injuries to her face the woman also sustained an arm injury as she attempted to block the assault.
Strickland allegedly grabbed her cell phones so she could not call for help. She locked herself in her vehicle and the two-term sheriff reportedly began hitting her vehicle.
On Nov. 9, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division agent assigned to investigate the incident filed a second-degree domestic violence charge against Strickland. He was then released on bond.
Strickland took a voluntary leave from office following the arrest as others began calling on South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster to remove Strickland from the sheriff’s post.
Although the sheriff had been arrested, McMaster could not remove him from office until Strickland was indicted on the second-degree domestic violence charge.
On Nov. 22, the indictment was announced. McMaster moved the same day to temporarily suspend Strickland from office.
McMaster, at the same time, appointed SLED Lt. Charles Ghent, an Edisto Beach resident, to serve as sheriff. Ghent will serve in the position until such time as Strickland successfully defends himself against all the criminal charges filed against him or until a new sheriff is elected in the November general election.