News 12 Investigation: Crime problems at Denmark Tech

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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, Feb. 25, 2013

Denmark Tech (WRDW-TV)

DENMARK, S.C. (WRDW) -- A quick search for "Denmark Tech" on YouTube yields startling results. One video depicts a mob of students on campus gathering around two individuals fighting. One of the individuals appears to physically threaten a law enforcement officer in the grainy clip.

Another video depicts a crazy scene on campus at night. A mob of students are partying in the foreground. In the background, there are blue police lights.

A final video shows students boxing, surrounded by a mob, near the entrance of the campus.

"It look like the projects," says Nichole Nimmons, an early childhood education student at Denmark Technical College.

The public school outside the town of Denmark serves about 1,500 students from Denmark, Bamberg, Barnwell, Allendale and beyond.

"I mean anything could happen. You never know what could happen when you cross the gate," said Kenyatta Crum, also a student there.

It's a school many students feel isn't safe.

"All you hear about is fighting and shooting and smoking and clubbing and partying and stuff like that," Nimmons said.

Our TV camera and tripod were kept behind the school's front gate. Guards only allow students inside ever since two students were shot on campus last year.

Nimmons and Crum guess 90 percent of students they know have guns behind the gate. Of course, it's a school where no guns are allowed.

"Every time you walk around, you hear somebody say they got a gun. They got a gun. They got two guns," Nimmons said.

News 12 asked Crum if she could bring a knife or gun onto campus if she wanted to.

"Yeah, you can," she responded.

Crime on this campus has been a problem for the Bamberg County Sheriff's Office. Longtime Sheriff Ed Darnell responded to the second shooting last year in early October, where a female student was shot only inches from her heart.

"When you have cars coming on that campus like they did that one particular night, and when they left, they were firing guns at other vehicles and hit another car with three or four rounds, that is terrible," the sheriff said.

Sheriff Darnell doesn't have direct jurisdiction on campus because the school has its own certified police force. However, Darnell estimates that during the beginning of last semester, 12 to 15 students were arrested here each week for anything from drugs to assault to weapons possession.

"There needs to be a great amount of security change at Denmark Tech," Darnell said.

Rep. Bakari Sellers of Denmark is aware of the problem, too.

"What I will not tolerate is two school shootings and a campus not being safe," he said.

He's asking for a conference between school administrators and Chief Mark Keel of the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division, the top cop in the state.

"I don't necessarily like to micromanage. I don't believe the government should be in everything, but this is a place where we're going to step in," Sellers said.

To this day, News 12 has repeatedly requested an on-camera interview with Denmark Tech's President Dr. Joann Boyd-Scotland. So far, she's repeatedly postponed the interview, but she did send back answers to a couple very basic email questions. She tells us: "Students matriculating at Denmark Technical College are law-abiding citizens."

But she adds that since the last shooting there is "an enhanced campus camera system," an "upgraded ID system," "campus-wide paging" and "additional security personnel."

But News 12 wanted to see the stats. Under the state's Freedom of Information Act, we requested "crime log data for the past two years," a list of sex offenders on campus and crime statistics including "violent crimes on campus for the past five years."

The data we got was inconclusive, so we drove back to campus to view incident reports for ourselves. After all, campus policy states: "the daily crime log is available for public inspection."

On our first trip, News 12 did get access at first, but then, Denmark Technical College Public Safety Chief Judy Halmon stepped in. She let us look at some reports but not others. She also stopped us from taking pictures of reports with an iPhone and also told us we couldn't initially jot down notes by hand.

"Can I read you your campus security policy?" asked News 12 reporter Chad Mills in a discrete video recording.

"No, you don't have to read it to me," Chief Halmon replied. "I read it every time I have to fill this stuff out."

"I am an individual. I am a taxpayer. I pay for this college in South Carolina. I am entitled to look at those incident reports," said Mills in the recording.

"Well, you got what you asked for," Halmon said.

The week after, News 12 returned to campus. This time, Chief Halmon turned News 12 reporter Chad Mills away at the gate.

"That's in your student handbook. We should be able to check daily crime log reports," Mills shouted in a recording.

After that, News 12 showed the video to lawyer Jay Bender, a leading expert on public information in South Carolina.

"I think what we have here is somebody who is either intentionally denying access or entirely ignorant of the requirements of the law," said Bender, after watching the recordings of Chief Halmon.

Code of law states 14 days of crime reports should be made available "for public inspection and copying during the hours of operations of the public body without the requester being required to make a written request to inspect or copy the records when the requester appears in person."

That means Denmark Technical College broke the law. Bender says this means News 12 could sue the school, demand the information and demand the school pay News 12's legal fees. However, News 12 has yet to reach an editorial decision on a possible civil suit.

"It sounds to me like the law enforcement officials at Denmark Technical College are, in fact, lawless," Bender said.

A civil lawsuit News 12 found in Bamberg County also raises more serious allegations. In the suit, the campus' former police chief says the current chief and President Boyd-Scotland "have exhibited a desire and willingness to protect students who violate criminal laws." He claims the school president "interfered with [his] law enforcement duties" and "discouraged arrests of students (even when guilty of serious criminal conduct)."

The former chief, Wilbur Wallace of Allendale, was fired by President Boyd-Scotland for excessive use of force, even though his name was cleared by SLED.

Since the lawsuit was filed last September, counsel for Wallace, Julius Babb of Columbia, tells us the case was settled out of court.

"They need to step up and do the right thing and protect us if they want us to come and continue going to school, instead of just letting things slide and covering things up," Crum said.

The child education student will continue her daily trips to campus. She says there are a lot of students there who do want to learn like she does. But, if things don't get better, she says the school behind the gate may need to close its doors for good.

CLARIFICATION: The image of the gates at 0:29 and 6:54 of the video of this story is a stock photo of gates. The gates of Denmark Tech are shown at 1:26 and 4:27 of the video, as well as at various other times.

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