Perhaps South Carolina shouldn’t stand its ground

Darrell Niles
Darrell Niles

It has been more than three years since Darrell Niles was shot to death in Columbia, S.C. He’d be twenty now — perhaps starting his junior year of college. He’d probably be shooting hoops somewhere, since that’s what he liked to do when he was on the team at Keenan High School in Richland County.

Darrell had posted all of six tweets on Twitter in the month leading up to his death. He celebrated  when his basketball team became state champions in the 2A division; he wished everyone a happy Easter; he thanked God after he was in a wreck but wasn’t hurt. His tweets are still hanging out there, along with this photo of him.

The question of who Darrell Niles was going to be when he grew up will never be answered. His life was cut short a little after 1 a.m. on April 18, 2010, for no good reason.

That night, a 15-year-old girl and her friends had been out at a nightclub. On their way home, the girl called her father to tell him they were being followed by an SUV driven by other young women who were threatening them.

When Shannon Scott’s daughter arrived home, the SUV containing the threatening girls also drove up. There are conflicting reports as to whether shots were fired from the SUV, which apparently kept moving, according to testimony in the case. Scott told his daughter and her friends to get inside and lay on the kitchen floor.

Scott went around to the front of the house with a handgun and fired at Niles’ 1992 Honda. Niles died.

Scott was charged with murder. After a few months of disclosure of evidence in 2010, little action is listed in the case until August 2013, when Scott’s lawyer argued his client should be immune from prosecution under the state’s 2006 Stand Your Ground law. On Wednesday, Circuit Judge Maite Murphy filed an order agreeing with the argument and granting Scott immunity.

The prosecutor says he’ll appeal the judge’s decision to the S.C. Supreme Court. Here’s hoping they’ll listen.

This minimal recitation of the facts based on court records and news reports raises questions for me:
  • It may sound irrelevant, but what nightclub admits a 15-year-old girl and her friends? If it was one of those teen clubs that don’t serve alcohol, would it still be open at 1 a.m.? If it was an adult nightclub, then isn’t this the first illegality we’re dealing with in this story?
  • Why did the girl call her dad instead of the police when she realized she was being followed by a threatening band of girls? Wouldn’t the police be in a better position to find her and intervene?
  • When the father, Shannon Scott, got the phone call from his daughter that night, did he call the police so they might intercept the drivers in this dangerous situation? If not, why not?
  • Were the police called to the scene at the house before or after Darrell Niles was killed? Who called the police?

I ask all of these questions because Shannon Scott’s lawyer, Todd Rutherford, argues that Scott was in a life-and-death situation and people “cannot be expected to shoot straight always because they are not supposed to have their life in jeopardy.” Rutherford, who as a legislator helped to write the state’s Stand Your Ground law, argued that it was unreasonable to expect Scott to stay inside his house and wait for the police to arrive; that it was 1:30 a.m. and Scott was the only one who could defend his daughter against “women thugs.”

Rutherford apparently did acknowledge in court that Niles’ death was tragic, and that the victim was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

That’s quite an understatement.

Since we can’t expect Scott to shoot straight when he feels his life is in jeopardy, would he still be immune from prosecution if one of his gunshots had gone into another house and killed a sleeping child? If that had happened, would the father of that dead child be immune from prosecution if he’d walked outside and gunned Scott down in his front yard? Since we can’t be expected to stay inside our homes and wait for the police to arrive, would this have been a legitimate response?

Where does standing your ground actually end in a civilized society? Of all the states in the union, wouldn’t it be great if South Carolina could figure out that answer?

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