Stavrinakis upset woman who confronted Alice Boland denied award

By Gregory Woods

CHARLESTON, S. C (WCIV) -- In February, police say a woman armed with a loaded gun showed up outside of Ashley Hall School in downtown Charleston. Mary Schweers, the school's principal, placed herself between the gun and the students waiting for their parents to pick them up.

Alice Boland was charged with attempted murder, possession of a firearm during a violent crime, unlawful carrying of a pistol and two counts of pointing a firearm in that incident.

Officials said Boland did not load the gun properly, so despite her pulling the trigger, the gun did not fire.

Boland was arrested and no one was injured.

Schweers' act of courage stood out to local community members who asked Rep. Leon Stavrinakis to write a letter of recommendation, nominating Schweers for the Order of the Palmetto -- the state's highest civilian honor awarded by the governor.

Stavrinakis said Sunday did not receive a response from Gov. Nikki Haley's office and instead sent his aide to check on the status of the application.{}

"[The aide] called me back and said they had decided not to award the Order of the Palmetto and instead they were going to do just a generic certificate of appreciation. Frankly, I was stunned," Stavrinakis said in a phone interview.

One week later, Stavrinakis was in the stands at Williams-Brice Stadium as the Gamecocks took on the University of Florida. There, Haley awarded USC women's head basketball coach Dawn Staley with the Order of the Palmetto at halftime.

Stavrinakis took his disappoint to social media, tweeting, "@NikkiHaley Gives order of Palmetto to Bball coach but rejects it from Mary Schweers who risked her life to save Elem students from death."

Risking one's life to save students is courageous, but{} Doug Mayer, spokesman for the governor's office, said the act simply did not meet the requirements.

"We awarded a certificate to Mary Schweers in recognition of her heroic actions. The Order of the Palmetto, the state's highest civilian honor, is given for statewide, lifetime achievement. That's the standard by which the governor makes these awards. In terms of Mr. Stavrinakis, shame on him for diminishing the accomplishments of Coach Staley, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, and wonderful South Carolinian," he said in a statement.

SPECIAL SECTION: The Alice Boland Case

Stavrinakis said he did not doubt Staley was a good person but said he thinks the award should have been given to Schweers.

"I'm sure she is deserving, but comparing the two, there is just no way to justify Ms. Schweers not getting the Order of the Palmetto," he said.

Stavrinakis has been outspoken on the incident outside the private girls' school since it happened. He was among the early co-sponsors of a bill that would create a database to track gun purchases in an effort to keep them out of the hands of people deemed mentally adjudicated.

The bill hit Haley's desk in May and she signed it into law.

Lawmakers said Boland never should have been able to buy the gun from the shop in Walterboro because of her previous run-ins with the court system in which she was adjudicated mentally unfit.

Boland was accused of threatening the lives of the president and several members of Congress in 2005, but later pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The charges were dropped four years later.{}

However, because the state lacks any kind of reporting mechanism, she was able to purchase the gun without a problem, officials said.

In the wake of Boland's arrest, a storied history of mental illness has shed light on her case as well as the problems with mental health in the state.According to court records, Boland was charged once before with threatening the lives of the president and members of Congress during a moment of rage in a Canadian airport. Those charges were later dismissed after she pleaded guilty by reason of insanity.Before that incident, records show she had problems at the College of Charleston and while she was a student there was sent to a mental health facility.Her parents have filed a pair of multi-million-dollar lawsuits against several state agencies and hospitals for her alleged mistreatment, but none made it to court.The bill introduced by Reps. Stavrinakis, Eddie Tallon, Rick Quinn, and Peter McCoy has a companion bill in the Senate introduced by Chip Campsen.The incident at Ashley Hall School also attracted the attention of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who filed a background checking bill of his own. That bill did not garner the same level of support as the bill that moved through South Carolina's Legislature and has yet to make it to President Barack Obama's desk.

Boland is being kept in a mental health facility in North Carolina. Her bond was set at $900,000.

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