DARLINGTON, SC (WBTW) – After launching a new Special Victims Unit in January with just three investigators, the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office has added three more investigators and a dedicated prosecutor to take the cases to court.
Lieutenant Larry Stivender was selected by Darlington Sheriff Tony Chavis to lead the unit, and he says his investigators each have a specific job.
The six investigators in the SVU have a distinct focus: two are concentrated on domestic violence, two focus on vulnerable adults, and two are dedicated victim’s advocates. The unit takes over once a related call comes in and the investigators work together to prepare the file for prosecutors.
“Vulnerable adults is one of my main passions,” explains Lt. Stivender. “I’m an old grandma’s boy that was raised by my grandparents. I loved her. I would hate to see anybody mistreat an elderly person.”
Lt. Stivender says adding three more investigators to his team means cases get investigated more thoroughly with the goal of making it to court quickly.
“When you look at the numbers and everything we have going on, I saw the need, was able to show where it would be beneficial, and it’s worked out for the best,” says Lt. Stivender. “To make sure all of the cases we handle – nothing is put on the side – that all cases are investigated to the fullest.”
The unit works with Prosecutor Sam Thomas to crack down on domestic violence. Investigators talk with Thomas about five times a week to give him background information on each case.
“It puts a face to the file,” explains Thomas. “It humanizes it. It really helps to move forward and in a way that is almost seems more just.”
Thomas says this year the county has already had 487 domestic violence cases, and the year is only half over. More than half of victims drop the charges against an offender, but since the South Carolina Supreme Court broadened the ‘excited utterance hearsay exception,’ law enforcement and prosecutors have been able to move forward with charges.
“We have alternatives other than convictions in court to try to help some people that may need the resources,” says Thomas.
Lt. Stivender says the change helps create a stronger prosecution and cuts down on repeat offenders in the county.
“We are responsible for, not only protecting the victims against the subject, but also against themselves,” reveals Lt. Stivender. “I have to protect you. Even though I might not see you need it. But we’re here to help you.”
Each member of the unit has about five to six cases a week, says Lt. Stivender, and he believes offenders are recognizing the county is cracking down on special victim cases.