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      Horry County Solicitor: No choice but to drop many 'Red Harvest' charges

      Solicitor Jimmy Richardson

      The Horry County solicitor says when he looked at the cases against the defendants in the Operation Red Harvest case, dropping the charges was the only thing he could do.

      Operation Red Harvest was an 18-month investigation into what Horry County police called illegal activity by the Hells Angels motorcycle club.

      Solicitor Jimmy Richardson says a major problem with the case was that witnesses recanted what they told police.

      Georgetown attorney John Hilliard, who represented 17 people in the Red Harvest case, says his clients are ordinary citizens whose lives were severely disrupted only because they belonged to the Hells Angels.

      "Many of them lost jobs, many of them had family difficulties because of this, financial hardship on them was extraordinary," Hilliard said.

      Hilliard says a lot of time, energy and effort went into arresting people who didn't do anything wrong.

      He says many were arrested completely by surprise.

      "None of the search warrants executed connected to the Hells Angels part of this case found any reference or any component of illegal activity. Nothing," he said.

      Richardson says many of the charges were related to a fight in which no one was injured, but that many Hells Angels members witnessed.

      He says police had probable cause to arrest those witnesses on conspiracy charges, but it would have been difficult to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.

      "I don't know that you could have ever locked up 110 or so warrants on that sort of a charge," said Richardson.

      Richardson says part of the problem with the operation was that police tried to make a sweeping, federal-like case using state charges and it didn't work.

      Another problem was that key witnesses changed their stories.

      "When you have a case that threw a big wide net like this and one or two people change their story, it doesn't take much for those cases to fall apart," Richardson said.

      Richardson points out that nearly 90 drug charges still remain pending from Operation Red Harvest and those have a much better chance of getting convictions.