The S.C. Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation earlier this year into how police handled the 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
A state grand jury, which operates under the authority of the State Attorney General’s office, is now looking into the boat crash investigation, said another source with knowledge of the situation. The state grand jury is specifically examining whether there was obstruction of justice by anyone, the source said. State grand juries have multi-county jurisdiction and subpoena powers.
Both sources wanted confidentiality because they are not authorized to make public statements on the matter.
The boat crash is under scrutiny again following the shooting deaths June 7 of two members of the prominent Murdaugh family: Paul Murdaugh, 22, and his mother, Maggie.
Paul Murdaugh was awaiting trial on charges that he was intoxicated and driving the boat when it crashed near Parris Island on Feb. 24, 2019. All six passengers were thrown from the boat. Five survived. The body of Mallory Beach, 19, was found days later.
Murdaugh had pleaded not guilty to three counts of boating under the influence, and the case, prosecuted by the Attorney General’s office, would likely have gone to trial had Murdaugh not been killed.
Last week, the agency declined a request from the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette newspapers for the case file, even though Murdaugh — the only person charged in the crash — could no longer be prosecuted. A spokesperson said his charges would be dropped, but the investigation would remain open.
He did not answer questions as to why.
Sources confirmed that the Attorney General’s office is again investigating the crash, though Attorney General spokesperson Robert Kittle said he could not “confirm or deny the existence of any investigation ever.”
According to the state law, state grand juries possess “considerably broader investigative authority than individual county grand juries,” whose jurisdiction is limited to the counties in which they are located. State grand juries are authorized by law to investigate matters involving public corruption and obstruction of justice.
After news of the still-open investigation came to light, two attorneys associated with the boat crash released statements.
“The Beaches have every confidence and are hopeful that the attorney general’s office will continue to investigate and prosecute any improprieties related to any attempts by any member of law enforcement to influence the original criminal investigation related to the boat crash,” Mark Tinsley, a lawyer for the Beach family, said this week.
Joe McCulloch, a lawyer representing boat passenger Connor Cook, said he hoped the Attorney General’s Office would “further explore the inexplicable disappearance of important evidence and other lapses by the initial investigating authorities.”
Problems in boat crash investigation?
The source with knowledge of the attorney general investigation declined to specify which problems the agency was specifically looking at.
There were a number of irregularities in the aftermath of the boat crash.
No one was administered sobriety tests.
In court depositions as part of an ongoing civil case, the passengers said Paul Murdaugh was intoxicated and driving the boat.
One report from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office said there was confusion over who was driving the boat, but in a separate supplemental report from the agency, a passenger interviewed said Murdaugh was driving.
The Port Royal Police Department first had jurisdiction over the crash. The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office assisted. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources took over the investigation, as the crash happened in the water.
Things got murkier when the Murdaugh family became involved.
Paul Murdaugh came from a family of three generations of Lowcountry prosecutors and a family law firm in Hampton with millions of dollars from fatal crash lawsuits.
A 2019 report from the The State newspaper said that Paul Murdaugh’s father and grandfather — who was a former 14th Circuit Solicitor — showed up to the hospital after the crash and prevented police from interviewing the teens involved or taking sobriety tests.
The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, the current 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office and two circuit judges recused themselves from the case after that because of ties to the Murdaugh family.
The murders of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh have brought national attention to the family and renewed interest in the boat crash.
There is no evidence currently, nor indication from law enforcement, that the murders and boat crash are related.