York County prosecutors and Rock Hill Police are not bound to a deal a police detective made with an accused killer that his charges would be dropped if the suspect divulged information about an alleged street gang, a judge ruled on Wednesday.
Circuit Court Judge John Hayes agreed with a solicitor’s arguments that police do not have the legal authority to assure a defendant’s immunity from prosecution. But Abbdul Emmanuel’s lawyer says the situation has created a “slippery slope” without apparent remedies if police officers make promises and nothing is done to force compliance.
Emmanuel’s lawyer, Tyler Burns of Fort Mill, filed a motion last month alleging that prosecutors should uphold an agreement brokered between Rock Hill Police Detective Ryan Thomas and Emmanuel during an interview in January.
The deal, Burns’ motion alleges, was that Emmanuel, who faces 13 charges including murder, attempted murder, criminal conspiracy and burglary, would go free if he disclosed information about the organization and leadership of 715 FAM, a group of teenagers and young adults who say they’re aspiring musicians who produce music videos and post them on social media.
Burns argues that, although 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett did not directly make the promise to Emmanuel, the deal should be upheld because of Detective Thomas’ “apparent authority” as an “agent of the state” on Brackett’s behalf.
A week later, prosecutors countered in court documents that the detective made the deal without their authority, and, when the deal was struck, police at the time were unaware that Emmanuel would be charged with murder a day later.
Police say Emmanuel shot and killed Michael Giddens, 25, at his Cedar Grove Lane home in Rock Hill on Jan. 10. Emmanuel, 20, also has been charged in connection with several 2013 drive-by shootings that police say stem from an escalating feud between 715 FAM and two rival gangs: 901 KOB and the Southside Bloods.
In court documents, Burns writes he listened to audio recordings of Thomas’ hours-long interview with Emmanuel, where the officer is heard suggesting Brackett would drop Emmanuel’s charges if the suspect cooperated.
Burns reiterated his stance in a York County courtroom Wednesday, stressing that Emmanuel believed he disclosed information police wanted because he felt Thomas had the power to withdraw his warrants.
“Most people” would not realize the police officer was unable to dispel charges once the warrants have been issued, said Burns, adding that he believed a “remedy” should be given since Emmanuel performed his part of the “contract” and gave police information because he thought charges would be dropped.
Any remedies, Judge Hayes said, could be presented as issues with evidence, such as the inadmissibility of statements Emmanuel gave Thomas in court.
The recordings were not played in court Wednesday.
Using a state Supreme Court case to stress his point, Deputy Solicitor Willy Thompson said Thomas is “not an agent of the prosecution” and the motion comes down to an issue of “actual authority, not apparent authority.” Only prosecutors, he said, can decide whether charges will be dropped or not.
Thompson also explained that when Thomas made the deal, Emmanuel had only been charged with attempted murder in connection with a Flint Street drive-by shooting, and detectives interviewing him did not realize he was a suspect in Giddens’ death.
Emmanuel was charged with murder a day after his second interview with Thomas and two days after the interview in which the vow was made.
Brackett took the stand, testifying that he received on Jan. 12 a call from Rock Hill Police Maj. Steve Parker, who explained that police believed Emmanuel had knowledge about 715 FAM’s alleged activities but did not suspect he was directly involved. Parker sought Brackett’s advice on whether a deal could be made with Emmanuel should he agree to cooperate.
Brackett said he told Parker authorities would need to determine Emmanuel’s culpability in the crimes, evaluate his case and, “depending on how it panned out,” then prosecutors would decide on how to proceed with any potential deals with Emmanuel.
“I did not make any promises or authorize anyone to immunize anyone from prosecution,” Brackett said, adding that no plea offers were discussed and he had “insufficient information” to even begin debating making a deal with Emmanuel.
After Emmanuel gave police information about 715 FAM’s activities, he implicated himself in several shootings and, a couple of days later, was served with more attempted murder warrants.
While Burns lobbied that all his client’s charges be dismissed because of the promise, Thompson argued that Emmanuel was “already charged and warrants were served” when Thomas made the deal. “At that point, law enforcement is without authority” to offer any deals.
Hayes agreed that Thomas did not have the legal power to bind prosecutors to a promise that Emmanuel’s charges would be dismissed. He also ruled that Rock Hill Police were not bound to enforce the deal because warrants had already been served and charges filed on Emmanuel.
After the hearing, Burns said he would explore his options regarding evidence that could be challenged in light of the deal with Emmanuel.
“Right now, we’re going to keep preparing ... regardless of the turnout,” Burns said. “What kind of slippery slope do we start when (the police) can promise the moon and there’s no ... recourse?”
Giddens’ family declined to comment.
Pamela St. Hill, Emmanuel’s mother, stood in tears.
“What can I say?” she said. “Where is the justice?”