Three months after two men were killed and two others were injured at a nightclub on St. Helena Island, law enforcement officials say a law that allows them to compel witnesses to talk has helped advance the investigation.
However, authorities are tight-lipped about how often the statute, known as the "mob law," has been used or what information has been elicited.
The 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office confirmed Friday that it has been using the law to subpoena witnesses and force them to testify about the gun fight June 21 at Midnight Soul Patrol.
Both Solicitor Duffie Stone and Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner declined to say how many subpoenas have been issued, but Tanner said the law has "helped tremendously" with the investigation.
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Enacted in 1962, the law allows subpoenas to be issued before an indictment if a case involves a violent crime by a "mob," defined as two or more co-conspirators intent upon hurting a person or group of people. Witnesses who don't cooperate can be charged with contempt of court and sent to jail.
The shooting resulted from a feud between rival groups, according to Sheriff's Office investigators. Dozens of people were gathered at the club at 56 Toomer Road when at least 15 shots were fired.
Killed were St. Helena residents Dante Kendall Bailey, 33, and Michael Douglas Morgan, 26.
St. Helena residents Joseph David Bowers, 27, and Lucas Miles Morgan, the 25-year-old brother of Michael Morgan, were arrested within 24 hours of the incident. Bowers was charged with murder and Morgan was charged with attempted murder. Both were denied bond and indicted by a grand jury on Aug. 26, Stone said. Deputies had been called 28 times to Midnight Soul Patrol, also known as the Poot Shack, between Jan. 1 and July 28, records show. The nightclub shooting was the eighth violent, gun-related incident on St. Helena in a year.
However, investigators often struggled to get information from bystanders who were at the crimes scenes -- witnesses said they knew nothing about violent incidents that occurred in their presence, authorities said.
Frustrated, Stone and Tanner announced they would begin using the mob law.
PERMITTING 'CRIMINAL ACTS'
After the shooting at Midnight Soul Patrol, a Beaufort County fire marshal and the Sheriff's Office Alcohol and Beverage Control Team visited the club for fire and alcohol code inspections. A fire marshal cited club owner Elaine Brown for several minor violations in July, such as improper emergency exits and cooking equipment. Brown made changes and upgrades and is now "completely compliant," according to the marshal.The Alcohol and Beverage Control Team reported the club violated its beer and wine permit because the shooting meant Brown "permitted a criminal act" to occur at her business.
The violation was reported to the S.C. Department of Revenue, which fined the club $500 on July 12, according to chief deputy Michael Hatfield. Hatfield said the Sheriff's Office has not yet received confirmation that Brown paid the fine or whether she plans to appeal it. She has until Oct. 9 to decide.