News

July 19, 2013

Mayor Steve Benjamin Creates Panel on Bond Reform

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin has created a panel to review how the city handles bond requests for repeat violent offenders.

Benjamin announced the formation of the group Thursday. The panel includes civic leaders and retired and current law enforcement officials, including Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and former SLED Chief Robert Stewart.

The group will look for ways to "improve upon and recommend new tools to keep career criminals in jail and off the street," the mayor's office said in a release. It will also review what's known as the Early Legal Assistance policy, which allows police officers to submit warrant requests to a prosecutor rather than directly to a judge or magistrate.

Benjamin said he formed the panel in the wake of the shooting death of 33-year-old Kelly Hunnewell. The mother of four was shot to death while working at a bakery in Columbia earlier this month.

One of the suspects arrested in the shooting, 18-year-old Lorenzo Young, was out on bond at the time of the incident, and had a history of violent crime arrests. 

"Lorenzo Young never should have gotten out of jail and now one young woman has lost her life and four small children have lost their mother,"  Benjamin said in a statement. "The people of Columbia won't stand for it and neither will I."

The group will also make recommendations to the General Assembly on ways to strengthen laws relating to bonds.

Here is the list of members of the panel: (biographies provided by the City of Columbia )

Chief Robert Stewart (Chair) - Robert M. Stewart retired as the Chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) on November 30, 2007 after 33 years with the agency and over 40 years in law enforcement. He was the SLED Chief for 20 years serving four governors representing both parties. In addition, Chief Stewart has served as the State Homeland Security Advisor and was elected to the Executive Committee of the National Governors Association's Homeland Security Advisors Council. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and the FBI National Executive Institute. 

Sheriff Leon Lott - Sheriff Leon Lott's career in the Richland County Sheriff's Department began in 1975 when he joined the department as a patrol officer advancing through the ranks to various positions including Criminal Investigator, Narcotics Agent, Lieutenant and Captain of Narcotics Division, Administrative Captain, Uniform Patrol Captain, and Watch Commander.

In 1993, he left the department to take over the St. Matthews Police Department as Chief of Police but returned after being elected Richland County Sheriff in 1996.

Sheriff Lott is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, FBI National Executive Institute, Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He has received numerous honors including the Order of the Palmetto and is a former SC "Sheriff of the Year."

Robert Bolchoz - Robert Bolchoz worked as a prosecutor for 5 years in the Ninth Judicial Circuit in Charleston, SC serving as Deputy Solicitor as well as Chief Prosecutor for the Trident Narcotics Task Force. He was also appointed Special Assistant United States Attorney by former US Attorney Bart Daniel and prosecuted a number of public corruption cases.  He and his wife Cheryl moved to Columbia in 1995, where Bolchoz served as Chief Deputy Attorney General and supervised the prosecution of numerous State Grand Jury matters while managing the Attorney General's Office. 

Amy Cue - A University of South Carolina graduate with a Master's Degree in Social Work, Amy Cue serves as Regional Director for Growing Home Southeast, a private non-profit which oversees programs for at-risk children and families in the Midlands. In addition, she has served as Richland County Court Appointed Special Advocate Guardian Ad Litem and Lead Clinical Specialist for Lutheran Family Services in the Carolinas.

Johnny Gasser - A local attorney and co-owner of the firm Harris & Gasser, LLC where his practice focuses primarily on federal, state, and local criminal defense, Johnny Gasser has over 20 years' experience as a state and federal prosecutor. He served in the 5th Circuit Solicitor's Office for nearly 16 years, nine of which as Deputy Solicitor, and has also served in the U.S. Attorney's Office and worked as a federal prosecutor in a variety of capacities.

Rev. Chris Leevy Johnson - A widely respected and recognized community leader, the Reverend Chris Leevy Johnson is the Campus Pastor of Brookland Baptist Church, Northeast and the President of Leevy's Funeral Home.  A graduate of the University of North Carolina, he holds dual degrees from the University of South Carolina including a PhD in American History with a concentration in African American Religion.  He is married to Cynthia Richardson Johnson and they are the parents of two children.

Neal Lourie, Esq. - With over two decades of experience in criminal law, Neal Lourie is widely respected for his work as a prosecutor and defense attorney. From 1993 to 2000, he served in the 5th Circuit Solicitor's Office where he prosecuted violent criminals and drug dealers as Special City Prosecutor for City of Columbia. In 2000, he left the Solicitor's Office to open the Lourie Law Firm where he currently litigates civil, workers compensation and criminal matters.

The Hon. Carl L. Solomon - The Hon. Carl L. Solomon is a Municipal Judge for the City of Columbia and a practicing attorney in South Carolina's State and Federal Courts. He is a former President of the South Carolina Bar and has served on many committees regarding the legal system in our state including the South Carolina Supreme Court Commission on the Profession. He has represented defendants and served as a Pro Bono prosecutor for the Attorney General's Criminal Domestic Violence Program. 

Gregory Torrales - Owner of the LaTorr Consulting Firm, a statewide consultancy, Gregory Torrales is a long time community leader and advocate. He currently serves as President of the South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council, one of the oldest and largest Hispanic organizations in South Carolina, and has been instrumental in creating new public safety partnerships between law enforcement and South Carolina's Hispanic community.

Contact Tony Santaella at tsantaella@wltx.gannett.com.

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