A Beaufort County Sheriff's deputy has been fired, a senior investigator reassigned and three other officers disciplined after an internal investigation concluded that multiple lapses contributed to the collapse of a high-profile murder trial.
Cpl. Curtis Evans was terminated May 28 after a Sheriff's Office investigator determined that Evans did not tell his superiors about a recording he made with his body microphone during questioning of one of the three men charged with murdering 8-year-old Khalil Singleton in 2012.
Evans, who had no authority to question the suspect, also took no steps to have the recording preserved so it could be submitted as evidence later, the investigation found.
Each is a violation of Sheriff's Office "general orders," according to the findings of the investigation, which was released Friday.
Never miss a local story.
In the recording, Evans is heard telling defendant Aaron Young Sr. that he could avoid the murder charge if he cooperated with detectives. While Young Sr. said he wanted an attorney, Evans continued his questioning and did not relay Young Sr.'s request to investigators.
Young Sr. did cooperate -- revealing where a gun, a key piece of evidence, was hidden. He was charged with murder anyway, and his lawyer now says the deputy's assurances amounted to coercion.
Evans told a Sheriff's Office internal investigator that while he was in an interrogation room with Young Sr., he talked to the suspect to keep him calm, and denied making any promises. The investigator then played a portion of the recording in which Evans told Young Sr. he would not be charged with murder.
When the investigator asked Evans what he had meant, Evans responded, "I never said I ... I was not making him any guarantees and I don't have the authority to make any deals like that."
Those statements were "further evidence of Cpl. Evans' attempts to minimize his level of violations and not accept full responsibility for his egregious actions," according to the findings of the internal review, done by Master Sgt. Brian M. Baird, an investigator with the Office of Professional Responsibility in the Sheriff's Office.
The recorded exchange between the deputy and Young Sr. turned up by surprise, on April 22, just as the trial of the three defendants was beginning. The judge ruled to indefinitely delay the trial the next day.
SENIOR INVESTIGATOR DISCIPLINED
The senior investigator who has been reassigned and put on one year's probation -- Capt. Robert Bromage -- "violated BCSO general orders by failing to properly oversee and manage this investigation," according to the internal review.
Bromage has been transferred to the Sheriff's Office's Support Services Branch.
A veteran detective who has been involved in many high-profile cases, Bromage "failed to ensure that his personnel received all available video recordings," the review states. Because the recording of Evans' conversation with Young Sr. wasn't passed up the line to detectives handling the Singleton case, it wasn't shared with prosecutors in the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office or with defense attorneys until the eleventh hour.
During the internal investigation, Bromage told Baird, "This whole issue is a series of breakdowns and management issues and I am a part of the management, so therefore part of it falls on me."
Bromage continued: "I wish all of this had been caught early on . . . this matter is a shared responsibility of the management of criminal investigation, which includes me."
The investigation also found that Bromage violated procedures by failing to correct Evans in one situation. During the interrogation of Young Sr., Bromage told him it was important to find a missing gun, which could prove someone else shot the child. Bromage then implied the Solicitor's Office, not the Sheriff's Office, would ultimately decide the charges against Young. Sr.
Evans interjected: "But at least it's not murder."
Bromage ignored the comment and continued the interview. By doing so, he "appeared to condone (Evans') objectionable actions," the review found.
In retrospect, Bromage told the internal investigator, he should have spoken to Young Sr. about Evans' statement.
"But I decided to carry on," he told the investigator.
Reached Friday, Bromage declined to comment.
Other officers disciplined after the internal investigation were Master Sgt. Angela Viens, Lance Cpl. Jeremy Dickman and Sgt. Laurel Albertin. Each received a written reprimand and one year's probation.
"MSgt. Viens was the sole person in the Investigations Branch with access to review and download videos . . . ," the internal review noted.
Attempts Friday to reach Evans, Viens, Dickman and Albertin were unsuccessful.
THE 'ONLY TWO'
The report emphasizes that Evans and Dickman were the "only two" Sheriff's Office personnel who "told Mr. Young Sr., he would not be charged with murder" if he cooperated.
"No other BCSO personnel made any promises to the Youngs regarding what they would or would not be charged with for their involvement in this matter," the report says. (Young Sr.'s son, Aaron Young Jr., also was involved in the shooting that resulted in Singleton's death. Singleton was hit by a stray bullet as he played outside with a friend in their neighborhood on Allen Road on Hilton Head Island.
The shooting erupted after a dispute between the Youngs and Tyrone Robinson, a resident of Allen Road.
All three men were being interrogated at the Sheriff's Office substation on Hilton Head the night of Sept. 1, 2012, hours after the fatal shooting.
Sheriff P.J. Tanner declined to comment about the details of the internal review Friday but said his deputies were disciplined appropriately and that refinements in archiving procedures would continue. The sheriff launched the internal review April 23, the day the trial of Young Sr., Young Jr. and Robinson fell apart.
Tanner said the Sheriff's Office will continue researching best practices for retaining the more than 100 recordings collected by deputies each day.
Previously, files that were not tagged for preservation were deleted from the system after 45 days. The Sheriff's Office is now saving all videos indefinitely, Tanner said. He would not say how long it would take to develop new procedures for recordings.
"We're still revamping the policy," he said. "We've got to figure out how we're going to house these, and we're working on different ways to do it."
CRITICISM OF SOLICITOR
The internal review criticized the Solicitor's Office for not cooperating more with the internal investigation.
Baird, the Office of Professional Responsibility investigator, said he had contacted Solicitor Duffie Stone to arrange interviews with Hunter Swanson, an assistant solicitor, and Dylan Hightower, an intelligence analyst in the Solicitor's Office.
Stone didn't respond, the report said. Baird did hear back from Deputy Solicitor Sean Thorton, who said Stone had been busy trying a case but promised that Swanson and Hightower would provide written statements.
"Regrettably, my request to conduct interviews of these Solicitor's Office employees was denied by Solicitor Stone," Baird's report stated.
The written statements helped, he said, but were less useful than interviews would have been. Without face-to-face interviews, Baird said, "I am forced to close this Administrative Investigation without being able to address" lingering issues.
Attempts to reach Stone on Friday were unsuccessful.
It is not clear when the trials for Young Sr., Young Jr., and Robinson will begin, though Judge Thomas Cooper has mentioned Sept. 16 for Robinson's trial.
Initially, the three were being tried together, but after the trial collapsed, Cooper ruled to try them separately.
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.