COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A former student of a Columbia high school whose videos have drawn national controversy currently faces just one misdemeanor charge related to threatening a school, the Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office confirmed.
And that charge is not at all related to the videos that have since gone viral.
The juvenile withdrew from the private Catholic school, Cardinal Newman, when the school discovered two racially-charged videos that appeared to show the student shooting at targets and referring to them as African Americans, then later threatening to “shoot up” the school, the principal told parents in a letter.
Police said at least one of the videos the student is accused of making was dated May 2019. The school said it wasn’t until July that someone reported the videos.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department arrested the 16-year-old on July 17 following a text message police said the student sent with the school threat.
Thursday, more than three weeks after deputies took the juvenile into custody, WIS learned more about what charges the student faces.
The juvenile will not face any charges for the racist rhetoric in the videos, Deputy Solicitor April Sampson confirmed. She said that is because South Carolina does not have a hate crime law.
The suspect will face one count of school threats, which is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum of 10 years in jail, Sheriff Leon Lott said.
During a press conference Thursday, Lott expressed frustration over the state’s lack of a hate crime law, which he said prevents law enforcement from prosecuting someone who is accused of such a crime.
As a father of a 16-year-old himself, Lott said when he saw the videos he was disgusted. But he also said his hands are tied when it comes to charging the juvenile with any other crimes.
He called for politicians to enact a hate crime law in South Carolina, pointing out is one of only five states in the nation without such a law.
“As shocking and disturbing as the videos are, there’s no state law against those videos and what people have seen in those videos,” Lott said.
While it’s possible for more charges to be added in the case as prosecutors review evidence, Sampson would not reveal the current status of the case.
Some members of the public have speculated that charges against the student have been lessened since the initial arrest, but the solicitor’s office would not comment on that.
Lott said his department notified the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI, which has an open investigation into the videos. It has also secured the assistance of its counterterrorism task force, according to Lott.
It is unclear if the student will face federal charges. If he does, he will be charged as an adult as federal authorities do not prosecute juveniles.
While the student was arrested July 17, police did not announce the arrest until Aug. 2.
Lott said the reason for that was because the investigation is ongoing and once the arrest had taken place, the threat of violence against students and teachers at Cardinal Newman was eliminated.
“When we release press releases about a school it will be very simple,” he said. "For example, a 15-year-old has been arrested for bringing a gun to a school…that’s it. So had we done a press release then we would have just said a 16-year-old has been arrested for making a threat against Cardinal Newman. That would have been it. But the threat wasn’t there anymore, this was different, the investigation was continuing.”
The school did not share news of the threats with parents until Aug. 4.
The delay in information about the threats and subsequent arrest is just one factor that has inspired anger from the school community and residents of Columbia.
Many Cardinal Newman parents have demanded answers from school officials as to why they waited to tell the community about the threats.
In the letter to parents dated Aug. 4, the principal of Cardinal Newman told parents about a town hall meeting at the school scheduled for the night of Thursday, Aug. 8. He said it would give parents the opportunity to pose questions to both school administrators and RCSD leaders.
However, after Lott’s press conference Thursday, the department said no deputies would be available to answer questions at the town hall.
The letter from the principal reads as follows:
WIS will have a presence at the town hall and will have the latest on Thursday’s 11 p.m. newscast.
NOTE: WIS originally reported the child was expelled, but the school later clarified the student was allowed to withdraw. WIS will not share the juvenile’s name or image unless the child faces charges in adult court in the future.