Judge denies request for gag order in missing teen case

Published: Sep. 12, 2012 at 4:36 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 9, 2013 at 3:04 PM EDT
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Gabbiee Swainson
Gabbiee Swainson

A Richland County judge has denied a request to impose a gag order in the case of missing teen Gabbiee Swainson.

Judge DeAndrea Benjamin released her ruling Wednesday denying a request by attorneys for Freddie Grant asking that Sheriff Leon Lott not release any more information in the case. But she warned investigators limit their comments to the media to "serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose."

Grant's attorney argued that comments from Lott, which include calling Grant a "monster" and saying that Grant "makes him sick at his stomach," are demonizing language that could influence the public against Grant.

Dan Goldberg with the Solicitor's office argued Lott has a right to inform the public about the case, and that's what's he's done. Goldberg sent a letter to the sheriff reminding him of the rules of conduct public officials must abide but when it comes to making statements to the media.

Grant's attorney asked that the judge put some restrictions on what Lott can say about the case. The Judge Benjamin disagreed.

In her ruling, Judge Benjamin wrote: "The degree of community interest and concern in this matter helps to further show that the issue of investigating and finding a missing fifteen year- old girl (sic) is a 'matter of public importance.'"

Grant is charged with kidnapping 15-year-old Gabbiee Swainson, who has been missing since August 18th.  Richland County Sheriff's Deputies have been searching for Swainson, but they have found few clues in her disappearance. 

Judge Benjamin's ruling concluded, "This court finds the Defendant's motion to impose a Gag Order is overbroad and the relief sought is extreme...the grant of such a motion in this case would violate the First Amendment because material prejudice cannot be shown.  However, this court strongly caution (sic) all trial participants and law enforcement personnel to abide by the...South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct."

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