The driver shot and wounded by a deputy at Tanger Outlets 2 last Friday has spent the past four years in and out of the justice system but has largely avoided harsh sentences.
The 21-year-old Hilton Head Island man’s lengthy criminal record may have people questioning why he wasn’t in prison on Dec. 9, when he is accused of injuring a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputy with his car before being fired upon at the Bluffton shopping center.
For one, prosecutors frequently dropped charges against Akeem Jenkins, and judges gave him light sentences when he pleaded guilty. But parsing out why is difficult, in part because Jenkins’ record is so confusing — he was repeatedly arrested while out of jail on probation or bond, and the justice system repeatedly lumped those violations together with his charges, likely to streamline sentencing.
As a result, he’s faced relatively few consequences relative to his run-ins with the law.
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For example, he was on probation last week when he was pulled over near Tanger for allegedly acting suspicious. He allegedly placed his car in reverse while Sgt. Raymond Heroux was standing near the open driver’s side door, trapping and dragging him through the parking lot. And when EMS were treating Jenkins, they allegedly found he was carrying cocaine.
Once charged, that will make Jenkins’ fourth arrest while on probation. But he has only been sent back to jail once for violating probation.
Another example: Jenkins was released from prison on Dec. 31, 2015, after serving five months of a yearlong sentence for firing shots into an apartment in Ridgeland. Five days later, he pleaded guilty to a drug charge from the previous May and was sentenced to just one day in jail — with credit for time served after that arrest — and five years’ probation. It’s unclear how much time he spent in Beaufort County Detention Center after that May arrest.
Since his first arrest in 2012, Jenkins “was just shuffling back and forth from jail to prison to probation,” said Peter O’Boyle, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.
While prosecutors often strike sentencing deals with defendants to secure a guilty plea, 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said Jenkins’ sentences for his weapons and drug convictions were not deals.
However, Stone could not tell The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette what sentences prosecutors recommended in those cases. And he argued that it’s South Carolina’s sentencing guidelines, not his office, that need to change to more effectively deal with repeat offenders. Stone said he would like to see the state allow for stronger sentences for people with bad records — something that only occurs for a handful of crimes.
“We deal pretty much on a regular basis with repeat offenders that are not facing substantial penalties. ... It’s something that’s not just a South Carolina issue. It’s a national issue as well,” Stone said. “The emphasis has got to be more on the defendant as opposed to the crime.”
But a new sentencing structure wouldn’t have had any impact on Jenkins.
He didn’t receive maximum sentences for any of his convictions.
In 2013, he pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana and third-degree burglary and was sentenced to 11 days in jail, with credit for time served, and six years in custody under the Youthful Offenders Act. That was suspended to three years’ probation with substance abuse counseling and random drug and alcohol testing. The maximum sentence for the drug possession was 30 days in jail. Sentences under the Youthful Offenders Act are highly discretionary, but the maximum sentence is six years in custody.
In July 2015, Jenkins pleaded guilty to discharging a firearm into a dwelling and received five years’ probation. He’d originally been charged with attempted murder, but Stone said the lower weapons charge was appropriate. Jenkins was also sentenced to one year in prison for violating his probation. The maximum sentence for discharging a firearm into a home is a fine of $1,000 and 10 years in prison.
In January, he pleaded guilty to drug possession and was sentenced to one day in jail with credit for time served. The maximum sentence was a fine of $1,000 and six months in jail.
In that incident, which occurred in May 2015, Jenkins was also initially charged with possession of a stolen vehicle, a moped that he had been driving erratically on Hilton Head, according to a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office report. When deputies searched Jenkins, they also found a bag of marijuana and a bag of hydrocodone pills, the report says, but he was ultimately convicted of just the one drug offense.
Prosecutors also dismissed several charges against Jenkins from March 2015, including that they allegedly found a bag of THC in the lining of his underwear upon booking him into the detention center, according to a Sheriff’s Office warrant.
Light sentences are not the only thing at play.
Jenkins also benefited from overlapping arrests and probations, which led the Solicitor’s Office and judges to hand down singular punishments for several violations at once.
For example, Jenkins technically broke bond in 2015 by being arrested while awaiting trial on his weapons charge. But rather than get his bond revoked, the Solicitor’s Office opted to take Jenkins’ case to court as quickly as possible.
There’s an even more confusing example.
In 2013, Jenkins was given three years of probation, to extend to 2016.
Technically, he violated that probation twice — by firing a gun into the Ridgeland apartment in 2014 and by being caught with a bag of hydrocodone pills in 2015.
But he never faced consequences for the second violation.
A judge revoked the parole in July 2015, thereby ordering Jenkins to prison for one year. But probation can’t be revoked twice. So when Jenkins was convicted of the drug charge in January, there was no recourse left for his bad behavior.
That doesn’t explain why he was given credit for one day already spent behind bars and released on a new probation.
“I guess you could argue that he ‘got away with it’ but he did get a one-day sentence,” O’Boyle said. “At that point, he’d just been in prison for six months and the judge, as is his prerogative, just chose to give him one day and an additional five years’ probation.”