Sheriff's Office still reviewing recording practices, deputy's actions in Singleton case

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comMay 16, 2014 

Three weeks after the mishandling of audio and video evidence forced a delay in a high-profile murder trial, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office continues to review its procedures for handling recordings.

Sheriff P.J. Tanner added that he sees no reason to ask an outside agency to conduct that review.

Also under examination are statements attributed to Cpl. Curtis Evans during an interrogation of a suspect in the death of 8-year-old Khalil Singleton, who was shot Sept. 1, 2012, as he played in the front yard of his grandmother's Hilton Head Island home.

Aaron Young Sr.'s attorney has asserted that Evans coerced Young's cooperation with investigators by telling him he would not be charged with murder if he helped locate a gun that Young's son used to shoot at a car near where Singleton was killed.

Young, Aaron Young Jr. and Tyrone Robinson were to stand trial on murder charges starting April 22. However, proceedings were halted by Judge Thomas Cooper of Manning when recordings containing part of the conversation between Evans and Young Sr. surfaced that morning. The judge said both the prosecution and defense needed time to study the recordings.

Tanner said Friday that his department's Office of Professional Responsibilities is still trying to figure out why the recordings did not get turned over to the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office or defense attorneys much earlier.

Tanner said that about 100 in-car tapes are typically produced each day, from all sorts of calls. On the night of Singleton's shooting, all of the recordings made within a certain period -- including the ones presented in court April 22 -- were electronically tagged and saved to a computer system by an investigator.

However, the recordings were not copied to a compact disc, as is the usual procedure. That's why they weren't included in investigative files turned over to the Solicitor's Office, Tanner said. They remained in the system untouched until defense attorneys requested copies of all recordings in court April 21, when a search of the electronic system revealed the recordings.

Tanner said his department is studying how other agencies, such as the S.C. Highway Patrol, store videos, to decide if the Sheriff's Office can improve its system.

Since the trial's delay, all recordings created by the Sheriff's Office have been tagged and saved to the system to ensure they are not erased. Typically, files that are not tagged are deleted from the system after 45 days. That policy is also under review as part of the comprehensive look at the electronic system.

"We're looking at everything," Tanner said. "It's an undertaking. We're using every asset available to determine the best practices. We're in the repair process now."

Tanner said there is no need to ask an outside agency to take over the examination, calling the error an "internal issue."

The S.C. State Law Enforcement Division is sometimes asked to investigate when an internal review could be a conflict of interest. For example, Tanner recently asked SLED to look into possible violations by the Beaufort County Detention Center's director. The sheriff sought SLED's assistance because his department works closely with the director.

In that instance, Tanner said, the investigation entailed possible criminal violations.

Mishandling of the recordings, on the other hand, was merely an unintentional oversight, to be addressed like a policy violation or reviewed much as a high-speed chase or use of force would be.

Tanner said the recordings could not have been intentionally hidden because they were tagged and available on the system. Hiding the tapes would have required them to be deleted from the system, he said.

An administrative review of Evans and other officers involved in the Singleton investigation continues, although any actions taken during that review will be handled internally and not made public, Tanner said.

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

Related content:

Full recording, with guide, of Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office interview of Aaron Young Sr.

Click quotes from the partial transcript below to hear that portion of the recording

"You could save yourself, and your son, by telling us where the pistol is." — Cpl. Evans, 7:10

"They can’t prove it wasn’t you without your gun to show that it wasn’t your bullet. ... If it didn’t come out of your barrel, you didn’t do it." — Cpl. Evans, 7:27

"Without that gun, you’re not going to be able to prove you and your son innocent." — Cpl. Evans, 9:15

"That wasn’t because of us. That was because of that man next door, Tyrone Robinson." — Aaron Young Sr., 10:38

"If you shot at me at my own house, in my own yard, and at my own vehicle, then you got a death wish." — Aaron Young Sr., 11:24

"We didn’t go down there to have a shootout at the OK Corral." — Aaron Young Sr., 19:01

"I could believe that’s what did happen. ... What I said was true. That gun will save both you and your son’s life." — Cpl. Evans, 25:30

"If (the bullet) doesn’t match the one that’s in that little boy, you’ve just proved that your son didn’t kill that kid." — Cpl. Evans, 26:12

"If your story is true, which I think it is ... that gun will save you and your son’s life from going to jail the rest of your life." — Cpl. Evans, 27:34

"You’ll probably be charged for shooting at Tyrone, but you didn’t kill that little boy so you’re not going to get charged with murder." — Cpl. Evans, 28:07

"I don’t see what you would be worried about giving that gun up, because you know, in your heart, you were shooting at Tyrone and there’s no way you could’ve hit that boy back here." — Cpl. Evans, 29:29

"That gun is your only saving grace. ... The bullet that came out of that gun won’t match with the bullet that was in that boy. That would prove that you didn’t commit murder." — Cpl. Evans, 31:40

"You know Tyrone ran off and dumped his gun, and you know he isn’t going to tell us where it is. He knows he did it. ... He’s got nothing to lose. You do, because you didn’t do it." — Cpl. Evans, 32:31

"I need a lawyer for this one because I can’t trust you all. You’re trying to jail everybody." — Aaron Young Sr., 34:01

Source: Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office recordings

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