UNION COUNTY, S.C. -- The Union County, South Carolina, Sheriff says an area judge is too soft on criminals-- and that Sheriff is calling out a judge, saying he repeatedly hands down light sentences.
A woman who buried her newborn baby in the backyard; a man who shot a puppy 18 times with a BB gun. Both convicted, and both eventually given probation.
NBC Charlotte uncovered a pattern that has many in our area disturbed and calling for change.
Brody and Kailey are the best of buds.
“He makes me happy,” she says of her dog.
But the veterinarian will tell you Brody shouldn’t even be here.
“He had 18 BBs in him and had been shot multiple times,” says Dr. Jay Hreiz.
Brody was a puppy-- just four pounds and barely 6-weeks-old.
Hreiz explains, “Pretty much sick to my stomach. The fact that someone was capable of doing that to a defenseless animal.”
De’Monte Douglas shot Brody with a BB gun 18 times; he pleaded guilty to torturing the lab mix.
Douglas is 18, has no priors, and Judge Dan Hall gave him probation. The teen could have gotten as much as five years.
The vet who treated Brody says, “It’s sad to see it’s turned out to be more or less a slap on the wrist.”
The same judge handed out what could be called a slap on the wrist to Tara Ostrowksi, a Rock Hill woman who’d already been in court once before, pleading guilty to assault. This time she pleaded guilty to unlawful neglect of a child; she was on drugs while pregnant and buried her newborn son in her backyard.
Court documents show the baby lived for six- to eight-minutes before he died.
Ostrowksi could have gotten 10 years in prison. Instead, Judge Hall gave her five years probation but kept her in jail until she got into a drug treatment program.
She violated that probation less than a year later when probation supervisors found guns and knives in her home. Ostrowksi went back before Judge Hall, who let her original sentence of probation stand as is.
“They get a slap on the hand,” says Union County Sheriff David Taylor, who has voiced his concerns about Judge Dan Hall before.
“The inmates in my jail know when he’s coming and they line up to plead guilty in front of him because they know he’s going to give light sentences.”
The Sheriff says Judge Hall is even light on repeat offenders.
“I was irate.”
Brandi Northern has been arrested more than 18 times. And the Sheriff says almost every time she gets just probation.
“It’s time for these people to be held accountable.”
Sheriff Taylor says he was most stunned by the sentence Kenneth Lipsey got. Video shows two Union County inmates as they plan, then escape from jail by climbing up onto the roof and jumping to freedom.
One is a convicted murderer.
The other, Lipsey, was in jail after being convicted of breaking into cars.
For helping a murderer escape and escaping himself? He could have gotten up to 10, but Judge Hall gave him just three years.
“I was shocked for the little sentence this man got for helping a murder suspect escape a facility.”
The Sheriff thinks he may have an explanation for Hall’s sentencing pattern.
“I feel like he’s being sympathetic.”
USC law professor Ken Gaines agrees.
“That’s why you have judges, some are hard some are softer.”
Before becoming a judge, Hall was a public defender, who four years ago, got punched in court when his client wasn’t happy with the 10-year sentence he got for robbery.
NBC Charlotte tried to talk to the judge several times but he repeatedly said, “I have no comment for you.”
Professor Gaines says Judge Hall isn’t doing anything wrong because statutes spell out possible sentences.
“As long as he’s following the law, just because somebody disagrees with his sentencing, doesn’t mean he’s doing something illegal.”
South Carolina is one of only two states where legislators elect judges, not the voters. The Commission on Judicial Conduct investigates complaints against judges, but a spokeswoman said those complaints only go somewhere if a judge is doing something illegal.
A pattern of leniency is well within the law as long as the sentences follow the law.
Professor Gaines explains, “A lot of this is taking risk with people. I don’t see anything wrong with it, you may not agree with it, but the judge has to take all the factors into account and make a decision whether this person is a good risk or not.”
The Sheriff says, “There needs to be a checks and balances [system] on these judges.”
In South Carolina, judges serve a six-year term and are then up for re-election by the General Assembly.
The Sheriff says that’s not enough checks and balances and the people who cared for the puppy that was shot 18 times agree.
The vet says, “I’m quite disturbed that a person got away with something like this.”
Eleven-year-old Kailey has her own take on it.
“What do you think of the person that did this to Brody?"
"They just need to be prayed for.”
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