Newspaper sues SC police over records in mother, son deaths
ISLANDTON, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina newspaper is suing the police agencies investigating the shooting deaths of a mother and son from one of South Carolina’s prominent legal families, arguing that authorities violated public records law by refusing to release 911 calls and police reports.
The Post and Courier in Charleston reported that it filed the lawsuit Thursday against the State Law Enforcement Division and the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office.
Police responded to a 911 call on June 7 and found the bodies of Paul Murdaugh, 22, and his mother, Maggie, 52, at their Colleton County home. Both had been shot multiple times.
Since then, local and state agencies have released limited information on the case. Earlier this week, police offered a brief timeline of events on their investigation, noting that Paul Murdaugh’s father, Alex Murdaugh, first called 911 that evening and state police were asked to assist less than an hour later.
The Post and Courier’s lawsuit says the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office denied a reporter for the paper access to documents or information beyond a one-line incident report. The sheriff’s office told the reporter to seek those documents from the State Law Enforcement Division, but the reporter was also turned away by that agency.
State law requires police agencies release reports that “disclose the nature, substance, and/or location of any crime or alleged crime.” South Carolina public records law also notes that incident and supplement reports are public.
Police also have denied requests to review 911 calls by other newspapers in the state, according to the Island Packet. The law enforcement agencies have said the public faces no immediate danger, but they have not announced any arrests or named any suspects.
“If the Murdaughs were murdered, the public may be in danger from the killer or killers,” the Post and Courier’s lawsuit reads.
SLED Chief Mark Keel did not respond to a letter the newspaper sent on June 10 warning that his agency is violating the Freedom of Information Act.
Paul Murdaugh was awaiting trial on a charge of boating under the influence causing death in a February 2019 crash that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach. The woman’s body was found seven days after the crash.
The Murdaughs are one of South Carolina’s most prominent legal families. Paul Murdaugh’s grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great grandfather were all longtime elected solicitors in the area, but all were out of office at the time of the boat crash. Alex Murdaugh, father and husband to the victims in last week’s shooting, is a part-time prosecutor in the same office.