Judge denies gag order request in Gabbiee Swainson case
Thu, 13 Sep 2012 09:50:00 GMT —
COLUMBIA (WACH / AP) - A judge has denied a motion to impose a gag order on Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott in the case of missing Columbia teen Gabbiee Swainson.
An attorney for the man charged with kidnapping the teen asked for the gag order after Sheriff Leon Lott called the suspect a "monster" numerous times and said that Freddie Grant made him sick to his stomach. Richland County public defender Fielding Pringle argued that kind of commentary demonized Grant and could poison a pool of potential jurors if the case ever goes to trial.
Judge's DeAndrea Benjamin's Wednesday ruling called the the gag order request "overbroad" and "extreme." The ruling goes on to say that granting a gag order would violate Lott's First Amendment right to free speech and would prevent him from sharing information about a missing persons case that is of high importance to the community. Benjamin had to weigh that against Grant's Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial.
However, Benjamin did warn the sheriff and others they need to follow rules of professional conduct that say statements by law enforcement need to be limited to informing the public or explaining law enforcement action to ensure the defendant's right to a fair trial.
Freddie Grant is suspected of kidnapping Swainson from her home in the early hours of August 18. He is currently being held in the Lexington County Detention Center on federal weapons charges.
Deputies say a detainer has been placed on Grant, who has not yet been charged with kidnapping in the case. There is a pending warrant for his arrest on that charge, but it has not been served.
The motion to impose the gag order addressed three news conferences held by Lott, who has also appeared on the national television show "Nancy Grace" at least twice to discuss details on the case against Grant and the search for 15-year-old Gabrielle Swainson.
Grant's attorney hoped to keep Lott from discussing the case publicly.
Lott says Grant has not cooperated with authorities.
The search continues for Gabbiee Swainson. Anyone with information on the case should contact CrimeStoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)