Before meeting, councilman calls 911 on citizens asking questions
FAIRFIELD COUNTY, SC (WIS) - In Fairfield County, three concerned citizens say their rights were violated in a Wednesday afternoon county council meeting.
"It was a good conversation, like I said. It was probably the best dialogue we've had in years," said one of them, Bob Carrison.
Council was meeting at Fairfield County's Commerce Park to talk about picking a new county administrator. The main thing on the agenda was an executive session, a session where members of the public aren't allowed in.
"We had no intention of staying. We had no intention of being there while the executive session was on or when they were in executive session. Our intention was to simply come, be a voice, and say, 'Look, this is an important issue,'" said Jeff Schaffer, another one of the citizens.
But the three say things went south before the executive session – fifteen minutes before the meeting was even convened.
Councilman Kamau Marcharia called Fairfield County Sheriff's Office on them. An incident report says he told deputies he wanted the three removed.
"As I arrived I was met by Councilman Marcharia and he stated that the three people had to leave because they were having interviews and no one needed to be there," the report reads.
A copy of the 911 call, obtained by one of the citizens through the Freedom of Information Act, was sent to WIS.
"We need an officer down here now!" Councilman Marcharia says in the recording. "They're intervening in the process even though we haven't gone into executive session! They're in there questioning us an demanding information, and they need not be here!"
The three citizens say deputies didn't need to be involved. They say they were not causing a disturbance, were only there to stress to council the importance of picking a good county administrator, and had planned to exit the meeting once council voted to enter executive session.
"I feel that 911 was abused by Mr. Marcharia when he called the sheriffs. They do have more important things to do," said Beth Jenkins, the last of the three.
WIS let Jay Bender, an attorney for the South Carolina Press Association and a First Amendment expert, listen to the tape.
"That's overwhelming ignorance and arrogance," said Bender. "To think that a council member, before a meeting has been convened, is calling the police because citizens are asking questions. That's comical!"
Bender said it's also illegal if citizens were removed from a meeting before the council voted to go into executive session.
"The law requires the meeting to be convened in public. Then, if you want to go into executive session, there has to be a motion. If the motion is successfully adopted, then there has to be a statement of the specific purpose. Then, the executive session can be held," he said.
Despite the mix-up, the three say they'll keep showing up to meetings and keep fighting for what they believe will help the county grow.
A source on council told WIS that Councilman Marcharia had "no justification to call police," since "there was never a threatening gesture or behavior" from the three citizens. That councilperson said Marcharia should be held accountable for calling 911 for no good reason. The councilperson described Marcharia's behavior as "very erratic" and "desperate."
"He wanted them out of there and nowhere around him," the council source said.
Meanwhile, Councilman Marcharia wouldn't go on-camera with WIS but said he did feel threatened enough to call 911. He said the Freedom of Information Act was not violated. He referred other questions to the county attorney.
Fairfield County Sheriff Will Montgomery said the case is closed and the three citizens will not be charged.
He said deputies asked them to leave, and they did.
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