The criminal pasts of South Carolina House of Representatives District 25 candidates

The district is expansive, covering a large swath of southern Greenville County in what has become one of the more economically challenged areas as growth in urban Greenville pushes lower-income people out of the city.

The issue of social justice in the state House of Representatives District 25 race is at the forefront for incumbent Leola Robinson-Simpson and the two public-activist challengers she faces in the June 12 Democratic primary, Jack Logan and Bruce Wilson.

In this race, a theme of second chances has emerged, and it’s one that manifests in the histories of the candidates, their personal experiences with the law and belief systems that see the need for a better chance for life on the free side of prison bars.

In the case of Robinson-Simpson, those experiences date back to the Civil Rights era and her well-documented protests at Greenville establishments alongside other teenagers engaging in principled civil disobedience.

Leola Robinson-Simpson (Photo: Josh Morgan/STAFF)

For Logan and Wilson, the brushes with the law come from what they describe as personal failings in the past that led to felony convictions and prison time.

In interviews with The Greenville News, both explained their criminal histories as life lessons that can help them represent people who face similar circumstances, while Robinson-Simpson said she will not make their past arrests an issue.

People convicted of a felony are allowed under state law to run for state office 15 years after their sentences are complete or they are pardoned.

More: Pre-election poll shows a fight to the finish in South Carolina governor’s race

Logan and Wilson are eligible under those guidelines.

Logan, 61, served time in prison for grand larceny for what he said was theft of a car by passing bad checks. Logan had a string of fraudulent check convictions over the course of a decade, according to The News’ routine background check on political candidates. He was also convicted for petit larceny, breach of trust and forgery.

State House District 25 candidate Jack Logan.

Now, his aim is preventing gun violence, which he does through his group “Put Down The Guns Now Young People.”

“There’s so many people out there who have made mistakes," Logan said. "And the public doesn’t know how he or she made those mistakes. That’s my past. That’s what motivates me so hard to go against gun violence.”

Wilson, 51, spent time in the Florida prison system for aggravated assault with a weapon without intent to kill and false imprisonment, followed by other convictions for unlawful possession of a pistol, driving under suspension, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and trespassing.

Wilson most recently pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of cruelty to children that involved a dispute with his wife last summer.

Bruce Wilson, candidate for state House District 25 seat.

Today, Wilson uses his activist group, Fighting Injustice Together, to protest police abuse and economic disparity.

“I want to be an example that you can go from the jailhouse to the Statehouse," Wilson told The News. "I’m not proud of my criminal history nor am I ashamed of it, because through that it made me a better person."

Robinson-Simpson, 73, said she believes someone’s criminal history shouldn’t prevent them from serving if they can offer something good from their experiences.

“We sometimes turn our back on people who have experiences that they can share with young people to keep them from going down that same road," she said. "Sometimes it takes more than a professional in a three-piece suit to help inner-city kids who are endangered.”

Criticism of Civil Rights arrests

In explaining arrest histories, Logan took the opportunity to point out that Robinson-Simpson was arrested and jailed.

The most famous incident was in 1960 when Robinson-Simpson sat at the Kress lunch counter in downtown Greenville and was taken to a juvenile jail. The encounter is taught today in public schools.

“There’s a lot of things I’m upset with, but I’m not about to put myself in a situation to go to jail," Logan said. "I could do that, but that’s breaking the law. There’s ways to sit down and talk to people. The people back then were just like the people now. They all serve under one Lord, Jesus. All she had to do was go sit down and talk with them, whoever she was upset with.”

Robinson-Simpson said she believes that most of the time even the police didn’t consider the sit-ins a true crime.

"I feel there’s no comparison," she said.

Wilson, who was part of an effort in summer 2016 to shut down commerce and traffic in downtown Greenville as part of Black Lives Matter marches across the country, said he "wouldn’t hold that against her."

"Those laws were, in my opinion, unconstitutional, so I don’t think she did anything wrong," Wilson said.

Jack Logan explains

Logan said he wrote his fraudulent checks in the 1990s because he had come to Greenville from Cowpens and was homeless and a "country boy" who didn’t understand until leaders informed him that social service agencies such as the Salvation Army could help him.

He said he was arrested for grand larceny when he wrote a bad check to a Mauldin car dealer, which sent him to prison for three years until his release in 2001.

"I made a deal with Jesus in 2001," Logan said. "I said if you get me out of this mess, if you get people to love me, I won’t be ashamed to do anything for you.”

Logan has been present in the community and media and in the federal court system, where he has filed more than two dozen pro se lawsuits seeking various remedies. All have been dismissed by a judge.

Last year, Logan sued the Smith & Wesson Co. for $1 million for endangering his life through the manufacture of guns. He asked a judge to halt the company from making guns until gun control laws could be set.

The lawsuits, filed both as "Jack Logan" and "Jackie Logan," range beyond the gun violence issue.

In 2016, he sued Black Lives Matter for $1 million for hate speech and intimidation stemming from the downtown march and asked a judge to dissolve the organization. That same year, he sued the state for $1 million for not allowing him to write in a presidential candidate.

In 2010, he sued a Greenville fast food restaurant for $1 million alleging he got sick and discovered something in the meat of his hamburger.

The following year, he sued Greenville Technical College for $5 million for not giving him student aid before it was determined he’d stay in school, and in the suit asked the judge to order the college to give him passing grades of "C" or higher.

Logan told The News that he files the suits asking to proceed as a plaintiff of little financial resources. The large sums of money cited aren’t attempts to seek actual payment, he said, and instead are attempts to have his voice heard about perceived injustices.

“It’s not that I wanted money," Logan said. "I just didn’t want it to happen to another person.”

Bruce Wilson claims ‘overcharge’

Wilson, a Greenville native, describes his criminal history as one of a young man who grew up at-risk and ran with the wrong crowd until he could turn his experiences into action.

One such arrest happened in 1999 when he was charged with conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. The charge was dismissed by the investigating officer. Wilson said such a dropped charge is a common occurrence when law enforcement is policing minority neighborhoods.

“They’ll lock you up knowing the arrest is bad and later just drop the charge," he said. "That was done repeatedly back then.”

Wilson said the same thing applied last summer when he was arrested on a charge of first-degree criminal domestic violence and kidnapping. The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office alleged Wilson got into an argument with his wife and held her against her will until she drove away in a car.

Wilson chased in her in a car where his children weren’t restrained, authorities said. The chase ended up at the law enforcement center.

Wilson said the incident was misrepresented and that he was charged excessively because he had been in an ongoing dispute with the sheriff’s office over its participation in the reality show "LivePD."

Wilson said he pleaded to lesser charges because he had no choice.

“I disagree with the charges completely, because I felt there was no way possible for me to get a fair trial, not in Greenville, not with my record of challenging the criminal justice system," he said.

On the issues

While not criticizing Robinson-Simpson on her Civil Rights-era arrests, Wilson did take aim at what he said is a stagnant record of accomplishment in which she files bills that don’t get passed.

Wilson said that the community "really appreciates her, but at the end of the day there have really been no accomplishments. She simply does it to say she files a bill. You can’t file a bill and say you’re job is done.”

Robinson-Simpson said the assertion isn’t true. On the last day of the most recent legislative session, she said, the Senate passed her "Stop the School House to Jail House Pipeline" bill, which forms a study committee of Senate and House members to present methods that would limit the number of student referrals that lead into the juvenile justice system.

"That has always been a passion of mine," she said.

Robinson-Simpson said she is pushing for efforts to "ban the box" on job applications prompting an applicant to declare a criminal record and for tax credits for businesses that hire former inmates.

She also said she was instrumental in the bipartisan Greenville Health System deal that resulted in $4 million given to the community, $1 million of which will be distributed for efforts helping low-income people.

Robinson-Simpson said she found that enacting change in the Legislature "is not as easily done as one might imagine."

Logan said Robinson-Simpson has not kept her promise to help fix substandard infrastructure.

“The roads are beat up in District 25," Logan said. "The sidewalks are beat up in District 25."

Logan said that he wants to focus on fixing dangerous areas where pedestrians are struck by cars in the district.

Logan said he wants higher teacher pay and opposes home school because it "damages a child’s behavior in public."

While stemming gun violence is important, Logan said justice reform is crucial so people who commit crimes aren’t unfairly charged and punished.

“I stand against crime, and I want to make sure people go to jail but make sure they’re incarcerated for the right thing," he said.

Wilson said he would enact change in education and housing to benefit low-income people. He said he supports prison reform but resources shouldn’t come at the expense of schools.

A bigger share of lottery money should go to help K-12 schools, and those seeking a GED shouldn’t have to pay for it, because there is no charge for a high school diploma, he said.

“I don’t understand how the governor of South Carolina can sign, with a stroke of a pen, to give a prison guard raise but teachers have to fight for it," Wilson said. "Our teachers shouldn’t be having to have bake sales to supply their classrooms. Parents shouldn’t be spending more money on school supplies than school clothes."

Wilson said he supports not only affordable housing but housing that is "livable."

Robinson-Simpson has been recovering from a Statehouse fall last month that fractured her shoulder. She has made it out on the campaign trail but has been limited. She said she expects to be recovered in the next few months.

“I’m just praying that people will remember me and remember all the things I’ve done through the years and send me back," she said.

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