CHESTER -- Two white men accused of beating a black teenager in a grocery store parking lot won't face federal hate crime charges, Chester County Sheriff Robby Benson said Monday.
Benson says state and federal agents determined the men likely would get harsher sentences if they are tried in state court on charges of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. South Carolina has no hate crime laws, meaning the case would've had to go to federal court for such charges to be pursued.
"It didn't seem like it met all the elements of a crime for a federal case," said Benson. "I'm not sure if it fit the criteria."
The decision comes less than a week after a parking lot altercation witnessed by as many as 20 bystanders outside an IGA store on J.A. Cochran Bypass in Chester.
Investigators say brothers Donald "Toadie" Williford and Brandon Todd Williford began beating the teen after seeing him in a car with Toadie Williford's 16-year-old daughter.
The pair used racial slurs as they punched and kicked 18-year-old Rosevelt McClurkin Jr. of Chester, police said. A second black man was hurt when he intervened to stop the fight. That man, Collin Stringfellow, suffered a black eye and bruise on his cheek.
Deputies arrived to find McClurkin hiding in the store's walk-in freezer.
Reached at home on Monday night, Stringfellow said he'll leave it up to Benson to decide on the best way to handle the case.
"I guess he's going for whatever he feels is the appropriate justice," said Stringfellow, the nephew of Chester County NAACP President Bill Stringfellow. "It definitely can't end up being a slap on the wrist. For right now, you've got to let the justice system do its thing."
Authorities considered pursuing the case as a hate crime because of the apparent racial motivations. Detectives from the State Law Enforcement Division and FBI were in contact with Chester County officials on the case. The U.S. Department of Justice made the final decision, Benson said.