It all started in the sweltering summer of 2016 at the “Stop and Go Corner” store – located at 3536 Kay Street in downtown Columbia, South Carolina.
And it all went down over less than a dollar …
st this third-world dystopian backdrop, 25-year-old Zaire Janyi Franklin of Columbia made the mistake of agreeing to buy cigars for 16-year-old Jermaine Dupri Davis and one of his underage friends on the afternoon of August 2.
The cigars were purchased from the Stop and Go Corner, but Franklin allegedly pocketed just under $1.00 in change belonging to Davis and his friend. This decision prompted a verbal altercation between the two parties.
Franklin kept the money, but the decision may well ahve cost him his life.
Days passed, but the resentment over this monetary dispute (a dollar is a big deal in the hoods of North Columbia) apparently lingered on … or at least that’s the narrative prosecutors in South Carolina’s fifth judicial circuit put forward to explain Franklin’s death.
Ultimately a jury of Davis’ peers rejected that narrative … a decision that certainly appears to have set in motion the high stakes legal and political battle we are currently witnessing related to the fifth circuit.
We know this: At around 10:30 p.m. EDT on the evening of August 5, 2016 – deputies with the Richland County sheriff’s department responded to reports of shots being fired near 113 Timber Court.
Upon arriving on the scene, they found Franklin “unresponsive” with a gunshot would to the upper torso.
Davis, now 18, was arrested and charged with Franklin’s murder. He was also charged with carjacking (he allegedly stole a 2000 GMC Jimmy SUV in an unrelated incident two days before Franklin’s death).
Davis eventually pleaded guilty to the latter charge and received probation. He was acquitted on the murder charge in November 2016, with only one of twelve jurors believing him to be guilty.
Davis was represented by Dick Harpootlian, the prominent Democratic attorney whose law firm is behind a recent dump of documents detailing dubious expenditures on the part of S.C. fifth circuit solicitor Dan Johnson.
In fact, we’re told Johnson’s handling of the Davis case may have been what motivated Harpootlian to move so boldly against the solicitor – although the legendary lawyer declined to go that far.
“I’ve been very critical of that office for some time,” Harpootlian told us this week.
The documents – obtained by Harpootlian’s firm using the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – detailed taxpayer-funded expenditures by Johnson’s office on swanky parties, cab and Uber rides, club and gym memberships and hotel rooms all over the world.
Not surprisingly, these expenditures are now the subject of an ongoing inquiry by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) – as well as a parallel probe by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
As we exclusively reported years ago, this isn’t the first time Johnson has been investigated by SLED. In 2011, he was accused of threatening to kill an FBI agent who was engaged in a longstanding romantic relationship with his (now former) wife.
Specifically, Johnson allegedly pulled a gun on the agent and screamed “I’ll put a bullet in you, motherf*cker” during the spring of 2011.
(Click to view)
This allegation led to a formal SLED probe into Johnson’s conduct, although he was never charged with a crime because his ex-wife – Columbia, S.C. attorney Kana Rahman – apparently recanted the original testimony she provided to law enforcement officers.
Last week we ran an exclusive report detailing some of the seismic details from that case file – including a reference to Rahman stabbing her husband during an altercation over his alleged affairs (an assault the solicitor is accused of subsequently covering up).
Drama, drama, drama …
Additionally, Johnson has previously been accused of questionable conduct with female subordinates – allegations we’re told have been folded into the current investigation.
Sources familiar with these incidents – several of which appear to be voluminously documented – tell us Johnson’s behavior was indicative of “unrelenting harassment and stalking behavior.”
In fact one source described his behavior as “psychological warfare, not just sexual harassment.”
Again, we reported on these allegations years ago … but Johnson skated.
How was Johnson able to keep his job? As we noted in our original coverage, the solicitor has powerful friends … but in the aftermath of the 2016 North Columbia shooting incident (and his attempted prosecution of Davis for murder and carjacking) he made an incredibly powerful enemy.
That Harpootlian and Johnson locked horns over this case is no secret. Last spring, reporter John Monk of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper posted a detailed reporton a public showdown between the uber-wealthy, politically connected attorney and the scandal-ravaged prosecutor.
That dispute – which was heard by former S.C. Supreme Court chief justice Jean Toal– resulted in a split decision.
Johnson was allowed to stay on the Davis case (Harpootlian had sought to have him booted), but the influential attorney got one of the charges against his client dismissed (the solicitor had belatedly added an armed robbery charge to the carjacking rap Harpootlian’s client was facing).
Monk’s report detailed Harpootlian’s anger at Johnson over alleged “prosecutorial vindictiveness” in the Davis case. It also revealed that Johnson was in the Galapagos Islands off the coast of South America when he was compelled to return to Columbia S.C. in response to a subpoena.
(Click to view)
(Pic: Harpootlian Law)
Harpootlian (above) and Johnson shook hands in the courtroom, according to Monk’s report, but the battle behind the scenes was bitter. Check that … is bitter.
According to our sources, Johnson was furious over losing the murder case to Harpootlian and decided to charge Davis with armed robbery in addition to carjacking. His rationalization? A cell phone had been inadvertently left in the vehicle Davis stole.
“Johnson threw the kid in jail on the new charge and left town on vacation,” our source said.
Infuriated, Harpootlian pressed for a hearing – and a subpoena for Johnson’s testimony on the matter was issued by S.C. circuit court judge Robert Hood
“Somebody had to explain what the independent evidence was for (the armed robbery) charge,” he told us.
Johnson attempted to quash Hood’s subpoena, but was unsuccessful. As a result, he was compelled to return from his Galapagos vacation and appear in court opposite Harpootlian.
In an interview with us this week, Harpootlian disputed the contention that Johnson’s “prosecutorial vindictiveness” in the Davis case motivated him to go after the solicitor’s financial records. However he did refer to Johnson’s handling of the case as “par for the course in the fifth circuit.”
Harpootlian added that the financial irregularities exposed via the recent document dump are just one part of his beef with Johnson’s “leadership.”
“There are issues beyond just the fiscal issues,” he said, referencing a pair of recent botched prosecutions undertaken by Johnson’s office (an arson trial and another murder case).
From 1975 to 1983, Harpootlian was a deputy solicitor in the fifth circuit. From 1991 to 1995, he was the elected solicitor.
“I know how that job ought to be done,” he told us.
Despite the latest round of investigations into his conduct, Johnson – a Democrat – filed paperwork last week to seek another four-year term as solicitor.
Frankly, we’ll be shocked if he makes it to the June 12 primary election without getting indicted.
He’s been lucky up to this point, but our guess is his luck is about to run out …