Charges for Officers in Hurricane Florence Drownings

Charges for Officers in Hurricane Florence Drownings

As Hurricane Florence ravaged South Carolina this past September, two women, both mental health patients, drowned whiled locked in the back of a transport van overcome by flood waters. The women, Wendy Newton and Nicolette Green, were being driven by two Horry County sheriff’s deputies to a treatment center when their horrific deaths occurred. Later reports indicated the driver of the van drove around barricades (some reports say they were waived through by fellow law enforcement) and into high waters, where the van became caught in the waters and overturned. The driver, Stephen Flood (the irony), and his fellow deputy Joshua Bishop, escaped and were rescued after the van ended up on its side, but the back of the van was not reachable from the front, and the van was resting on its side doors. The trapped women’s bodies were recovered the following day.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, a young mother named Dazia Lee lost her one year old son when her car became trapped in flood waters she tried to drive through. She is alleged to have driven around barricades as well, though there is some dispute of that fact. This young, black mother was charged criminally within weeks of her baby’s death. But while the officers were both fired, until this week it seemed they would escape prosecution. Then yesterday, it was announced that both officers would face two charges each of involuntary manslaughter. In addition, the driver who chose to circumvent the barricades is to be charged with two counts of reckless homicide.

Whether or not a person should be charged with or is guilty of manslaughter for driving through flood waters during a catastrophic flood if someone dies as a result is a matter for the courtroom. There are facts in dispute about the existence of barricades and how much, if any, criminal liability is warranted. And it is worth noting that these incidents occurred in different states, meaning that charging decisions were made by different agencies. But the swiftness with which Dazia Lee was charged, compared to the months that went by before it was decided that the deputies would face prosecution for essentially the same thing, certainly raises some questions as to the disparate treatment of differently situated individuals in society.

Dazia Lee lost her baby, and one can imagine there is no greater punishment to be imposed upon her. The deputies lived through a harrowing, tragic incident in which they could have died, and in which two women in their care died; no doubt that haunts and will continue to haunt them. However, for now anyway, there is at least equal treatment under the law for the three of them, whatever the wisdom of it.

Senior Editor

Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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5 thoughts on “Charges for Officers in Hurricane Florence Drownings

  1. I don’t know the specifics of the case, but as a physician who treats critically ill patients during emergency situations, I will say that we regularly circumvent “barricades”, and many people would die if we did not. I imagine bringing two mental health providers to a disaster scene is a very much analogous situation, and I am having trouble imagining a scenario where an exceptionable reason for driving around a barricade could not be produced, despite the very unfortunate outcome in this case.


    • Sure, there are good reasons. But this was not any sort of emergency situation. They were transporting mental health patients from one treatment center to another. Under orders, I’m sure. And then waived through by other officers.


  2. Presumably they took a few months to investigate whether a reason could be offered. Violating rules of the road is generally only going to be sufficient to establish negligence (involuntary manslaughter). The SC driver was charged with reckless homicide, meaning that it wasn’t merely a mistake, but a purposeful act made without regard to the safety of others. I suspect the passenger will enter a plea agreement and testify against the driver here.


  3. Absent some kind of obvious reckless behavior (she was drunk, or high, etc.) I’d be willing to excuse the young mother, simply because driving through a powerful storm can be scary as hell, and frightened people make mistakes.

    Even the officers could screw up out of fear, but given that they are officers, with training (one would hope), I would expect them to make better decisions.

    In short, if you are throwing the book a scared young woman, you should be dropping a hammer on the officers.


  4. It will never stop being an enormous issue that police officers are held to much, much, much lower standards than literally anybody else, all while wielding far more power than literally anybody else.

    It is bizarre that anybody goes to bat for this arrangement but such is the worship of authority.


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