AIKEN - When South Carolina's top law enforcement official OK'd shooting at home invaders, very few local law enforcement agents were surprised.
"The declaration of `open season' on home invaders by South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon simply restates a South Carolina Supreme Court decision that basically states that a person's home is their castle," said Edgefield County Sheriff Adell Dobey.
"It should serve notice upon the criminal element committing these home invasions of the dire consequences of their actions," Sheriff Dobey said. "Anyone contemplating a home invasion should decide if the fruit of the crime is worth dying for."
In a memo to solicitors, sheriffs and police chiefs, Mr. Condon said he wanted promises not to prosecute homeowners who defend their homes with deadly force.
Mr. Condon said he distributed the memo to remind law enforcement officials of the statute in light of a recent rash of break-ins by gang members in North Charleston and elsewhere.
Sheriff Dobey said he understood the protection given to homeowners who defend their property against forceful invasions, but he added a warning. "It should not be misconstrued as to give blanket authority to shoot anyone who knocks at a door or is merely trespassing," Sheriff Dobey said. "All shootings will continue to be investigated thoroughly and findings turned over to the Solicitor's Office or grand jury for further proceedings."
Aiken County Sheriff Howard Sellers said he believes it is the right of all people to defend themselves and their families.
"We live in dangerous times," Sheriff Sellers said. "This is a particularly vicious crime that is on the rise. And it will only decrease in the face of obvious risk to the perpetrator."
Bill Weeks, assistant solicitor for Aiken County, said, "I feel like it's always been the law that anybody invading the sanctity of your home is subject to being shot, removed forcibly, whatever force necessary. I think that's been the law for as long as I've been a lawyer, and I hope it continues to be."
Mr. Weeks said law enforcement officials should not make blanket comments about cases. If that happens, he said, "You're going to have people shooting their husbands and their boyfriends and people they're angry with who happen to slam on their door. Every single case has to be looked at on its merits."
Aiken Public Safety Director Pete Frommer said Thursday that his department will continue its policy of investigating "each incident on a case by case basis."
Sheriff Dobey said the best safeguard against abuse of the law rests with homeowners.
"It is the hope of the Edgefield County Sheriff's Office that all citizens act responsibly and use good common sense when it comes to the protection of their home and family," Sheriff Dobey said.
Reach Rick Green at (803) 279-6895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.