CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - House Democrats are raising questions about South Carolina's controversial citizen's arrest statute. A group of them are working to get rid of it entirely.
As it exists, the law gives people the power to arrest someone who has committed a crime. South Carolina takes the law one step further, by allowing lethal force in some cases.
On Tuesday, Rep. Justin Bamberg (D- Bamberg, Barnwell & Colleton Counties) filed a bill to repeal the statute. Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, who represents parts of Charleston and Dorchester counties, is one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
He says the bill has no place in any moral or just society.
"It can only lead to problems, it can only lead to what we saw in Brunswick Georgia and that's not something I want to happen in South Carolina," Pendarvis said. " A complete abolishment is a step in the right direction towards preventing that."
The discussion into South Carolina’s law was brought up after 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was killed in Georgia. Police say two white men suspected he was a burglar.
According to the state’s code of laws, a person may arrest someone if:
a. a felony was committed
(b) certain information that a felony has been committed or
(c) view of a larceny committed, any person may arrest the felon or thief and take him to a judge or magistrate, to be dealt with according to law.
The statute also states when a person could arrest someone at night by efficient means, " even if the life of the person should be taken" like when the person has committed a felony, entered a home without permission, or even" being under circumstances which raise just suspicion of his design to steal or to commit some felony, flees when he is hailed."
"If you're an average citizen and you see some kind of crime being committed, a felony, a larceny or any kind of crime, you have the authority to essentially take on police action and arrest that person in a citizen's arrest," Pendarvis said. Not only that, [South Carolina] takes it a step further and it allows you to use lethal action and kill that person if it's necessary and that's very problematic."
Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell of Lancaster County also filed her own legislation which would eliminate a large portion of the law that gives people deadly force, but not all of it.
“I think most people believe that they have the right to use deadly force if someone enters their home at night and so that’s the only part that I left in,” Powers Norrell said. “The other bill eliminates the citizen’s arrest law altogether. I didn’t go that far because the statute is used by private security firms to give their personnel authority to detain shoplifters and that kind of things.”
She is also a co-sponsor to Bamberg’s bill.
Representatives Pendarvis and Rep. Krystle Matthews (D- Berkeley & Charleston Counties), say this topic can't be brought up without talking about race. They say we see these issues particularly when it comes to people of color.
"There's a real bias and we have a race problem in America that we have to continue to address and not sweep under the rug," Pendarvis said.
Matthews believes there needs to be a bigger push to pass a hate crimes law in South Carolina.
"It would be irresponsible for us not to understand that we are living in a time where there are a lot of hate crimes going. We can't act like these things don't exist," Matthews said. "It's not enough for us to just stand together, we have to move on the issue."