SLED: No Criminal Violation in County Porn Probe

Coleman: Emails Did Not Meet ‘Obscenity’ Threshold

WINNSBORO – A final report issued by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) has closed the case against former Fairfield County Administrator Phil Hinely, who was accused last summer of disseminating pornographic images from his county computer. Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield, who has been weighing SLED’s findings for months, told SLED in a letter dated Oct. 20 that Hinely had not violated the state’s obscenity laws and that, therefore, there would be no criminal prosecution in the case.

“I examined the contents of the hard drive pursuant to Section 16-15-305 of the Code of Laws of South Carolina,” Barfield’s letter states. “That statute and its subdivisions first require that for the material to constitute a violation, the material must be obscene under very detailed and specific definitions. That statute also requires that the material be disseminated.”

“To determine whether Hinely violated the (obscenity) statute, I needed to know whether Hinely disseminated any of the questionable items on the hard drive (seized by SLED on June 28) as that term is defined in the statute,” Barfield’s letter states. “I asked Agent (Britt) Dove to answer that question for me. He reexamined the files using another software program and responded to me that he could not find that Hinely sent the files to anyone else after he received them. Therefore, I conclude Hinely did not violate Section 16-15-305 of the Code of Laws of South Carolina by merely having this material on his computer.”

This marks the second time SLED has closed the case file exploring questions of pornography being sent from Hinely’s computer. On Feb. 21, SLED also closed the case after receiving information on Feb. 5 that Hinely had been “disseminating pornography to a number of people via the Fairfield County computer system,” according to the original case file report. Barfield reviewed a collection of printouts, allegedly sent from Hinely’s computer, and determined then that the images were not illegal. A SLED spokesperson later told The Voice that SLED had not conducted an investigation into the accusations at that time, and that Hinely’s computer had not been examined, nor had anyone been interviewed in the case. That left the door open for rampant speculation and rumors in Fairfield County, and only a few short months later a second envelope of alleged email printouts appeared and began making the rounds throughout the county. During a June 24 County Council meeting, Kevin Thomas, Chairman of the Fairfield County Republican Party, publically presented Vice Chairman Dwayne Perry (District 1) with what he said was a second set of pornographic emails sent from Hinely’s county computer.

Perry later said the Thomas packet contained images more graphic than those in the original SLED packet, but that he was still unsatisfied with their authenticity.

“The whole thing has become a wildfire,” Perry said last June. “People are taking these emails as gospel, as factual. I feel like I have an obligation to make a good decision and not be influenced by people in the room telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. I do want to know if he (Hinely) did it.

On June 27, SLED, at the request of State Sen. Creighton Coleman (D-17), reopened the case and that afternoon agents were dispatched to the County’s Administration Building to interview Hinely and collect his computer hard drive. According to SLED’s investigative report, however, agents found that Marvin Allen, the County’s IT Director, had, under the direction of County Council, already removed the hard drive and had mailed it to Santa Maria, Cal., to be analyzed. SLED contacted the Post Office and had the package put on hold. Allen, meanwhile, was interviewed by SLED. Allen reported that he had never removed or deleted any files, including pornography, from Hinely’s computer, nor had he been asked by anyone to remove any files from Hinely’s computer.

On June 28, Allen and a SLED agent met at the Post Office. Allen retrieved the package containing the hard drive and turned it over to SLED. That same day, another SLED agent met with Sen. Coleman, who provided SLED with a sealed envelope that Coleman reported “contained printed photos that were sent from Hinely’s work computer.”

Barfield’s conclusions, however, based on the forensic examination of Hinely’s hard drive by Agent Dove, indicate that, while Hinely received “questionable items,” he did not forward those to anyone.

But Coleman, reached for comment Tuesday morning, said Barfield’s letter only indicates that Hinely did not forward illegal material. Coleman maintains that Hinely did forward pornographic material, and noted that, in law, there was a difference between pornographic and obscene.

“He sent stuff out,” Coleman said. “You know it and I know it.”

Phone calls to Barfield, as well as to Capt. Tommy Robertson, who supervised the investigation, were not returned at press time. The Voice’s FOIA request for the full contents of the SLED case file is still outstanding.

“If that’s the standard we’re using – the criminal standard – on whether or not to employ somebody, we’re in bad shape,” Coleman said.

At a June 1 wok session, Council Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) announced Hinely’s resignation, effective June 28.