GREENVILLE, S.C. — A prosecutor in South Carolina said he will no longer release the names of police officers who shoot at people unless they are criminally charged because they deserve the same right of privacy as a regular citizen.
But police shooting and free press experts said Solicitor Walt Wilkins’ policy for Greenville and Pickens counties is unusual and runs counter to the transparency people have been calling for in police shootings and other law enforcement matters.
Officers in other places have been threatened when their names are public, Wilkins told The Greenville News in a story that did not specify any problems in his jurisdiction.
“We’re not going to subject him to scrutiny by the public until a case has been vetted and completed. They still have the same rights as everybody else,” Wilkins said.
There has been a movement toward keeping officers’ names private, but it remains a rare policy, said Seth Stoughton, who studies police use of force as a professor at the University of South Carolina.
Stoughton said police officers are public citizens who usually know when taking their jobs they will be held to a higher standard. He also calls the move anti-democratic.
“Particularly with the relatively extreme action of taking someone’s life or attempting to by shooting at them, there’s a strong public interest in knowing relevant details and that includes an officer’s name,” Stoughton said.
A 2004 South Carolina Supreme Court ruling found police officers are public employees and their behavior is of vital public interest that outweighs the right to privacy.
Police officers have a badge and a name tag for a reason and their actions and whereabouts aren’t private, said Taylor Smith, an attorney with the South Carolina Press Association.
“These individuals are public officials who have made it their job to protect South Carolina residents, and they don’t enjoy any privacy protections in what they do by fulfilling those admirable duties,” Smith said.
There are no consistent policies for prosecutors in South Carolina handling officer shootings. The solicitor who leads Cherokee and Spartanburg counties and the solicitor in Anderson and Oconee counties send any officer shooting cases in their jurisdictions to be reviewed by prosecutors in other places to avoid a conflict of interest.
Information from: The Greenville News, http://www.greenvillenews.com