South Carolina

Prosecutor won’t charge SC trooper chief in alleged favoritism case of Clemson donor

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A Lexington County prosecutor has declined to bring obstruction of justice charges against a veteran S.C. Highway Patrol captain who intervened in a case involving getting a top Clemson athletic donor out of jail and the subsequent dropping of a DUI charge against the man.

Solicitor Rick Hubbard, of the 11th Circuit, said he made the decision on Oct. 7 not to press charges against Capt. Stacey Craven after he and his staff reviewed a 27-page SLED investigative report and hundreds of supporting documents and videos.

“The facts are obviously shocking, but we are looking at what can we prove in a court of law,” said Hubbard, who praised SLED for a “thorough investigation.”

Craven’s actions, while falling short of criminal acts, raise questions about whether the public can trust law enforcement to carry out its duties impartially, Hubbard wrote in a six-page memo explaining his decision.

The Highway Patrol is part of the S.C. Department of Public Safety, and a DPS spokesman said Thursday the agency is aware of the SLED investigation and Hubbard’s decision and is investigating Craven’s conduct in the matter.

“We have begun an internal investigation through our Office of Professional Responsibility to determine any violation of policy or procedure,” the DPS statement said. “The department is actively reviewing the facts of the case involved in SLED’s investigation and will not comment .... while its internal investigation is ongoing.”

Craven, a 30-year-plus trooper, is head of some 140 troopers in an Upstate regional patrol office covering Pickens, Anderson, Oconee, Spartanburg and Greenville counties. He could not be reached for comment.

The case involves the arrest of a top Clemson donor, Stanley Riggins, on DUI and open container in a car charges following the Nov. 29, 2014, Clemson-University of South Carolina football game in Clemson, according to the SLED report. Riggins, 69, could not be reached for comment in time for publication.

Riggins is described in the SLED report as a major donor to Clemson through its athletic fundraising booster group, IPTAY. IPTAY is similar to the University of South Carolina’s athletic fundraising group, the Gamecock Club. The IPTAY website lists Stanley Riggins as a co-endower of the quarterback position of the Clemson Tigers football team. IPTAY and the Clemson Athletic Department declined comment on the matter.

After Riggins’ arrest, Craven intervened at the Pickens County jail, tried to stop a Breathalyzer test — which Riggins refused — and then got Riggins out of jail before he was booked in, the SLED report said. Usually, people arrested on DUI charges are booked in and spend time in jail, the SLED report said.

One Pickens County deputy at the jail told SLED investigators that he “thought he recalled Capt. Craven telling him Riggins was a top contributor to Clemson University,” the SLED report said.

“Riggins walked out of the jail with (Captain) Craven,” the SLED report said.

Trooper Michael Taylor told SLED investigators that he had to obey Craven and release Riggins, since Craven — at that time a lieutenant — was his superior officer, but added that he (Taylor) had never experienced interference by a superior either “before or since” that day at the Pickens jail.

Although Taylor issued Riggins citations for both DUI and open container violations, the DUI charge was dismissed nearly three years later, on April 12, 2017, by Pickens County Chief Magistrate Michael Gillespie, the SLED report said. Riggins pleaded guilty to and paid a $257 fine for the open container charge. The prosecutor in the case got a note from Craven telling him the Highway Patrol was going to “nulle prosse” (dismiss) the DUI charge, the report said.

In an April 30 interview with SLED investigators, Craven said the reason he sprung Riggins from jail was that Riggins’ wife had called him and told him Riggins had heart conditions and she was worried her husband “may not make it through the night without the medications,” the report said.

Craven told investigators he then checked with a magistrate to see if he could get Riggins released, and the magistrate told him he could, as long as “the person had not been booked into the jail.” After walking out of jail with Riggins, Craven then turned him over to family members.

Craven told investigators he didn’t know about Riggins’ ties to Clemson and that he (Craven) did not benefit in any way from getting Riggins out of jail. But, Craven told investigators, he later did an internet search in which he found a picture of Riggins “standing beside Clemson football coach Dabo (Swinney),” the report said.

The report said Riggins refused to talk in person to SLED agents but agreed to a telephone interview in which he told the agents that when he was arrested after the 2014 football game, he wasn’t driving but out of his car scuffling with a man who was blocking the passage of his car.

The SLED report also noted that in the hours immediately following Riggins’ arrest on Nov. 29, 2014, there were a flurry of phone calls between Craven’s supervisor, Highway Patrol trooper Maj. Michael Warren, and a top IPTAY official. There were also calls between Warren and Craven.

Warren told SLED investigators that Craven “is a kind person that helps people and sometimes goes overboard.”

The SLED report says, “It was not common practice for the SCHP to release someone in custody to family members. ... It was common practice, however, for individuals arrested for DUI who refused breathalyzer exams to be booked into jail.”

In May, SLED gave Craven a lie detector test on whether he had lied about Riggins’ release, the report said. The results to the test were “no opinion” on whether Craven was telling the truth, the report said.

After the lie detector test, Craven told SLED agents that his conduct was “stupid” and he should not have intervened in any way in Riggins’ 2014 DUI arrest, the report said.

In declining to bring obstruction of justice and misconduct charges against Craven, prosecutor Hubbard’s six-page legal opinion on the matter said there just wasn’t enough evidence to prove the case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Hubbard was asked to take the case by 13th Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins, whose office prosecuted the Riggins open container case. Wilkins, in an interview, told The State he and his office work closely with Craven, and he (Wilkins) knows Craven personally, so he thought it was best to give the case to another solicitor.

‘Where’s the obstruction?’

In an interview Thursday with The State newspaper, Hubbard indicated he would have liked to have brought charges.

To prove misconduct, a prosecutor has to show “some type of benefit or gain to somebody,” but the evidence wasn’t there to show Craven or his supervisor benefited, Hubbard said. “We are not saying there may not be a crime, but it’s a matter of proof.”

As for obstruction of justice, although Craven intervened during the booking process, the DUI charge was still brought against Riggins, Hubbard said.

Although Craven contacted the solicitor before Riggins’ court appearance to tell him the patrol was dropping the DUI charge, dismissing the charge was not out of the ordinary because troopers didn’t catch Riggins driving — they observed his purported intoxicated behavior in the street, Hubbard said.

“Nobody saw any driving,” Hubbard said. “Most solicitors would say there’s no way you can prove DUI... So where’s the obstruction?”

Hubbard’s opinion did note that some of Craven’s answers to agents were “demonstrably false” and the flurry of phone calls between Craven and his superior officer before Craven got Riggins released from jail “are certainly suspicious.”

Hubbard’s decision said he is aware of the importance of this case because “the public’s trust in law enforcement is undermined when officers fail to faithfully and forthrightly uphold their duties.”

And, Hubbard noted, it is now up to the S.C. Department of Public Safety, which includes the Highway Patrol, to determine whether “Craven’s actions and lack of candor violated any department policies.”

Hubbard did say that if additional evidence comes to light, he will re-open the case.

John Monk has covered courts, crime, politics, public corruption, the environment and other issues in the Carolinas for more than 40 years. A U.S. Army veteran who covered the 1989 American invasion of Panama, Monk is a former Washington correspondent for The Charlotte Observer. He has covered numerous death penalty trials, including that of the Charleston church killer, Dylann Roof, and that of child killer Tim Jones.