Solicitor sheds light on some dropped cases

YORK -- Solicitor Kevin Brackett thinks he has good reasons why certain cases he's been questioned about were dropped or reduced, and he plans to address them Tuesday at a City Council meeting.

His plans to address the council come after accusations from Police Chief Bill Mobley that Brackett hasn't been tough enough on repeat offenders in crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Mayor Eddie Lee expressed his concerns about cases not being prosecuted to Brackett in a letter dated Oct. 1. Brackett said at the time he was not aware of the problems and emphasized the need for strong evidence from police. He asked for specific concerns, and Lee later presented him with a 44-page list of cases with charges that were dropped or reduced. Fifty-four cases were highlighted by police.

The tension climaxed in late October when Brackett said in court that police had botched a Sept. 11 gang-related murder investigation. Mobley fired back by saying Brackett acted more like a defense attorney than a prosecutor.

The State Law Enforcement Division was brought in to reinvestigate the case, and the attorney general's office now will direct the prosecution of the murder case.

In the meantime, the Enquirer-Herald and The Herald obtained the list of cases Lee asked Brackett to look into.

The newspapers selected six cases based on the severity of the crime and the fact that they didn't offer an immediate reason why charges were dropped or reduced. The papers also obtained background checks from SLED for those involved in cases that appeared to be gang-related.

In an interview, Brackett said witnesses in many of the cases didn't respond to repeated attempts by the solicitor's office to contact them.

However, Mobley argues Brackett could have subpoenaed the witnesses.

Brackett said he can subpoena someone for a trial, but he can't subpoena them to his office. When they arrive for trial, Brackett said, he might not know what they will say or if they will even cooperate. Sometimes, they won't show up, he said.

In cases that depend largely on witness testimony for a guilty verdict, this is problematic, he said.

"I can't walk into a trial blind," he said.

Brackett also said in some cases the witnesses may not be credible to the jury. If someone is going to buy crack in a bad neighborhood, it's hard to get a jury to sympathize with them, he said.

But Mobley said that witnesses may have been buying drugs doesn't justify the crime against them and shouldn't have any bearing on whether the case is prosecuted or not.

Here are the cases the newspapers examined and Brackett's explanation. Because charges were dropped in several cases, the names of those suspects have been left out:

• Suspect: A 39-year-old York man, charged with strong-arm robbery and simple assault. The charges were dropped with the option that they could be brought back again.

The Sept. 12, 2006, report said: A man told York police that he was robbed by a man he gave a ride to.

They were driving together, and the suspect asked the victim to stop the car. Before he got out, the man grabbed money from the car's console.

The victim grabbed the suspect's shirt, and the man then hit the victim in the mouth. The suspect ran away, and the victim went to the police department.

Police found parts of the suspect's shirt in the car and on the ground on Madison Street. A video at the store where the victim said he picked up the man showed the suspect in the area at the time.

An informant told police that he had seen the victim get in the car, and later the victim asked him to help look for the suspect.

When police found the suspect, he said the victim had tried to solicit sex from him.

Brackett said: The victim would not respond to repeated phone calls and letters. Attempts to locate him were unsuccessful. The solicitor's office dropped the case with the option to bring the charges again if the victim decided to cooperate later.

• Suspect: Quenton Thompson, 34, of 206 Adnah Church Road, York, charged with possession of crack with intent to distribute within proximity of a school. The charge was reduced to simple possession of crack.

The May 30, 2006, report said: An officer pulled over Thompson's car because he had his high beam lights on. The driver and Thompson seemed nervous, the report said. The officer asked if there was anything illegal in the car. When the officer checked Thompson's name in a computer, he found there was a warrant out for him. When the officer was arresting Thompson, he found a clear plastic bag in his left pants pocket. The substance in the bag was more than a gram, the report said. When a person possesses more than a gram, there is an inference that they could be planning to distribute it, according to law.

Brackett said: Although Thompson possessed more than a gram, there didn't appear to be evidence he planned to distribute it. All the crack was in one bag, and he didn't have a large amount of money -- indications that someone is dealing drugs.

The proximity charge was dropped because he was pulled over by police at that location. They would have no proof that he had planned to stop there and distribute the drugs. Thompson pleaded guilty to simple possession.

• Suspect: A 39-year-old Charlotte man, charged with pointing a firearm and gun law violation. The charges were dropped.

The Oct. 13, 2005, report said: An officer was driving down Congress Street when he saw a man driving an SUV. The SUV pulled over to the side, and a green van pulled up beside it. The people in each vehicle were talking to each other, but the officer couldn't hear what they were saying.

A man got out of the van and hit the suspect in the face. The suspect then pointed a gun at the man. The officer drew his gun and told the suspect to drop his. The suspect said he was asking the people in the van for directions when, for no reason, the man jumped out and punched him. He said he pulled the gun to stop him from assaulting him.

The man in the van said he had seen the gun on the suspect's lap and hit him to protect himself.

Brackett said: The "Castle Doctrine" says a person has a right to defend their "castle," and that includes their vehicle. Being punched gave the suspect legitimate reason to act in self-defense.

The gun violation charge was dropped because the suspect was from North Carolina where guns are supposed to be kept in the open. He did not seem to be aware he was supposed to keep the gun in a closed compartment within the car in South Carolina.

The victim also said he didn't want to prosecute.

• Suspects: A 27-year-old York man and Lortarius Duncan, 18, of 407 Ridgewood Lane, York, charged with armed robbery and aggravated assault. Charges against the first suspect were dropped, and Duncan pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of assault and battery.

The report dated June 19, 2006, said: When police responded to a fight on Bishop Street, the victim said that he was "chillin" with a group. As they were leaving, Duncan started pushing the victim, and the two began fighting. During the fight, the other suspect pulled a gun and took $40 from the victim's pocket. The victim got away and went to his aunt's house. The victim identified one man by his nickname and later identified him in a photo, police said.

Brackett said: Members of the solicitor's office tried to set up meetings with the victim, but he didn't show up. Letters got no response. They later found him at a new address and scheduled a time to meet at the solicitor's office. He again didn't show for the meeting.

Members of the solicitor's office also had concerns about the credibility of the witness because he had been together with the suspects.

• The suspect: A 21-year-old York man, charged with possession of a weapon during a crime and armed robbery. Charges were dropped.

The Aug. 18, 2006, report said: The victim said that he was robbed at gunpoint on Galilean Road. The victim said he was a crack user who had been clean for about three weeks but went to the Valley because he knew he could get crack there. He was flagged down by a group of young males. The suspect got in the car and asked the victim what he needed. The victim said he didn't want anything. At that point, the suspect pulled a handgun from his waistband and stuck it to the victim's neck. The suspect took $90 and got out of the car.

Police saw the suspect in the Valley area and said he fit the description the victim gave. The victim later picked him out of a lineup.

Brackett's said: The case wouldn't be strong in court because the victim was going to buy crack. The victim didn't want to testify about why he was there, and it's difficult to get a jury to believe the testimony of a crack user.

McClurkin case

Along with the list of cases the Enquirer-Herald and The Herald obtained was a copy of an e-mail Mobley sent Brackett about Fate McClurkin, 17, of 589 Thickett Run, who police had arrested on drug and illegal gun possession charges. The e-mail expressed concern that McClurkin was going to be allowed to enter a plea that would give him a three-year sentence. Allowing this would be like revoking his previous probation, Mobley said.

He also noted that Brackett had promised at an Aug. 13 community meeting that he would do his best to prosecute criminals to the fullest extent of the law.

Since then, McClurkin has pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute in proximity to a park and the illegal possession of a firearm. The charges he faced for possession with intent to distribute marijuana and resisting arrest were dropped. He was sentenced to three years.

The July 4, 2007, report said: Officers were patrolling the area of Galilean Road when they saw McClurkin walking through a yard. Because McClurkin was wanted on a previous warrant, they told him he was under arrest. A foot chase ensued. When police finally caught him, they found $681, a loaded .38 Special in his right rear pocket, a plastic bag containing six smaller plastic bags with green plant material. The incident happened within half a mile of the park on Galilean Road and the York One Academy School.

Brackett said: McClurkin only had half an ounce of marijuana and could have argued that he wasn't going to distribute. Rather than risk that happening, Brackett got him to plead guilty to the more serious charges and dropped the lesser ones. Although the community had expressed concerns about McClurkin, Brackett said he had to look at the evidence and be consistent. Based on the crime and the fact that McClurkin was already on probation, the three-year sentence was reasonable, he said.

The York City Council meeting will be at 6 p.m. at City Hall on Roosevelt Street.