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Thursday, April 17, 2014
Parker Sentenced To Prison
Editor – The Link
A jury has convicted suspended Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker on all eight counts. Judge Lee Alford sentenced Parker to 5 years in the S.C. Department of Corrections, suspended to 2 years imprisonment and 3 years probation.
Parker was escorted out of the Chesterfield County Courtroom by State Law Enforcement Division agents following Alford's sentencing.
Parker Jury Enters Deliberations
Editor – The Link
Closing arguments were presented by the prosecution and defense at the beginning of the eighth day of suspended Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker’s trial on Thursday.
Kinli Abee of the S.C. Attorney General’s Office was first to speak, explaining the eight charges against Parker that the jury is being asked to consider. The first two charges are furnishing contraband to inmates Michael Lee and William Skipper, respectively. Five charges deal with misconduct in office – one for improper supervision of inmates, one for converting public property for personal use, one for falsifying law enforcement officer records, one for improper distribution of firearms and one for accepting money he should not have personally received. The final charge against Parker is for embezzlement, which also deals with improperly receiving funds.
Defense attorney Johnny Gasser and prosecutor Heather Weiss addressed each count against Parker during their closing arguments. Gasser spoke first and Weiss concluded prior to the jury entering deliberations.
Gasser opened his argument by saying sufficient evidence has not been presented to show Parker has acted dishonestly or was a corrupt politician.
“The whole picture that’s been presented is of a man committed to his duty to protect and serve this community,” said Gasser.
Weiss opened by reading an oath of honesty sheriff’s swear to uphold, as well as showed the jury Parker’s newspaper advertisement that was run during his initial campaign promising to be about people and not power.
Weiss pointed out Parker’s 40 years of law enforcement experience, saying he knew what was required of the law.
“If anything happened that was good in the department, it was all due to Sam Parker,” Weiss said. “If anything happened that was bad, it was always someone else’s fault.”
In regards to the first two counts of the indictment concerning furnishing contraband to inmates, Gasser pointed out Parker relied on jail administrator Ritchie Rollins to ensure the county was following the guidelines established in a designated facilities agreement that was signed by Rollins and Parker and governed Lee and Skipper.
Weiss said just because Parker claimed he didn’t read the designated facilities agreement, it did not mean he wasn’t obligated to abide by the contract. She also pointed out several deputies testified Parker was told on many occasions that Skipper and Lee were allowed too many liberties, however Parker never did anything about it.
As for the third count against Parker for lack of inmate supervision, Gasser again said that dereliction of duty should fall on the officers responsible for the day-to-day supervision of Skipper and Lee rather than Parker. Weiss said Parker should be held equally as responsible for allowing his wife, who is not a trained or certified law enforcement officer, to transport Lee to church and restaurants alone.
The fourth count deals with accusations Parker used county property for personal projects, as well as allowed his friends use of county property.
Weiss pointed out at least $8,800 of county funds were spent on a rescue boat Parker and his friends used for recreational fishing, as well as county property Parker allowed to be used by his friends.
Gasser said to find Parker guilty of that charge, the law requires a jury find the property was converted at the exclusion of an owner’s rights. Gasser said the property was always available for the county’s use if a county employee needed it.
Count five against Parker is failing to properly train and classify officers, which Gasser said should fall under the duties of the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Department’s training officers and not Parker. Weiss said training officers alerted Parker of several issues, however Parker said everything was OK.
In regards to the sixth count against Parker, which is improper distribution of firearms, Weiss referred to a list of non-certified individuals who were given firearms belonging to the CCSD. Gasser said Parker was unaware he could not deputize individuals at his discretion, and added each of the individuals given guns were familiar with the weapons.
Count seven against Parker concerned a $500 check he accepted from Law Enforcement Publications at a S.C. Sheriff’s Association conference. Gasser said the check was written to Parker as a referral fee, which is allowed by LEP’s policy. Weiss argued Parker should not have accepted the check because he received it in his capacity as sheriff, which violated ethics laws by him making a personal deposit.
The final count Parker is charged with is also financial in nature and stems from his personally depositing or keeping cash from commissions earned through Pepsi vending machines at the detention center and the Chesterfield County sheriff’s office.
Gasser said Parker viewed the money as reimbursement for expenses he had personal acquired on county business. Parker also said he cashed some checks and left the money in a desk drawer in his office to use to purchase items for the department or spend on community fundraisers. He added the money he’s being questioned about wouldn’t come anywhere close to reimbursing him for personal funds he’s spent at the benefit of the county. Weiss said in her closing that the Pepsi checks totaled more than $2,000.
The jury deciding the Parker case entered into deliberation around 2:15 p.m. Thursday.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Final Witnesses Testify At Parker Trial
Editor – The Link
At the end of seven days, all that remains in the trial of suspended Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker is closing arguments and a decision by the jury.
Testimony Wednesday came from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) agent assigned to investigate the case, as well as Parker himself, who told Judge Lee Alford that he wanted to take the stand to present his side of the story.
SLED agent Lee Blackmon was the final witness called by the state’s attorney general office, which is prosecuting the case. Blackmon said his investigation into misconduct at the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office began in late August or early September 2012 based on accusations being made by S.C. Department of Corrections inmate Michael Lee, who had been transferred from Chesterfield County at the direction of Parker.
Blackmon said he spoke with Lee for several hours over the course of two days, then corroborated Lee’s story through interviews with Lee’s girlfriend, Angela Hurst, and two deputies responsible for supervising Lee in Chesterfield County, David Rivers and Mike Hutson.
In mid-January 2013, SLED agents came to Chesterfield County and gathered more information through searches at the county impound, armory, sheriff’s office and Parker’s home, which eventually led to Parker being indicted for misconduct in office along with county jail administrator Ritchie Rollins and emergency management director Harold Hainey, who was also a former supervisor of Lee.
Blackmon said throughout the course of his investigation he interviewed more than 100 people and reviewed thousands of documents. He said his first interview with Parker was during his initial trip to Chesterfield County, at which time Parker was represented by Cheraw attorney Jay Hodge, who was present for Blackmon’s questioning.
Blackmon testified that Parker admitted in the interview to being aware Lee and fellow state inmate William Skipper resided at the armory unsupervised at times, as well as that the in mates wore civilian clothes and had access to keys that opened and closed the armory gates. Blackmon said Parker also admitted to taking Lee and Skipper out to eat at restaurants, as well as allowing them to attend church services and participate in some of his family’s events.
Parker later took the stand in his own defense and said he was unaware of any laws prohibiting such activities. He said when he first became involved in law enforcement in 1975, inmates labeled trustees, which would be a similar classification held by Lee and Skipper, were granted a multitude of similar freedoms.
Prosecutor Heather Weiss pointed out many changes have been made in law enforcement and law enforcement regulations since 1975, and it is Parker’s duty to stay abreast of those changes in regulations; especially when there are also laws prohibiting many of the activities Lee and Skipper engaged in. She also questioned how Parker could remember things so vividly from 1975, but struggled to recall key points of the accusations being made against him.
Parker said his age played a role in his memory loss. Parker’s age was also brought up in earlier testimony by Rollins, who said Parker told him tales of Parker’s service in Vietnam, which Rollins believed until realizing Parker was too young to have served in the conflict.
Weiss’ first question to Parker Wednesday also referenced a statement Parker made while speaking at a S.C. Criminal Justice Academy graduation during which he told a story about being a Navy SEAL. Parker indicated he made the comments in jest.
One of the criminal activities Parker has been accused of allowing Lee and Skipper to engage in was shooting a pistol at Parker’s residence. Convicted felons and inmates are prohibited from having firearms.
Blackmon testified that during his interview with Parker, the sheriff denied allowing Lee and Skipper to shoot guns at his residence, adding that if it happened, Parker would have fired and arrested the deputies who allowed it.
Six people, including Parker, were reportedly present at the time of the “target practice.” Five testified under oath prior to Parker’s testimony to the shooting occurring. During his time on the stand, Parker said hearing the testimonies had reminded him of it happening, and he added he felt beyond embarrassed about it.
Blackmon said he also questioned Parker about the county shrimp boat during his initial interview in January 2013. Blackmon said Parker claimed to have used the boat about 20 times to save people in Harden Swamp, however there were no incident reports filed at the sheriff’s office about the incident and Parker didn’t know anyone’s name who was present at the scene.
During his time on the stand, Parker said Blackmon’s notes from January 2013 were incorrect, and that he’d only responded to one incident in Harden Swamp when the area was flooded. Parker said he responded with several other citizens to rescue two men stuck in a pick-up truck, however he didn’t recall the name of anyone at the scene and no report was written about the incident.
Blackmon said Parker stated he was unaware of many of the wrongdoings he and his department were being charged with until SLED presented him with the accusations in January 2013.
“He said he was finding out about it the hard way,” Blackmon said.
During his testimony, Parker said he realized he was ultimately responsible for everything that happened within his department, but that he trusted his chain of command to know and abide within the scope of the law while providing their duties. He said he trusted Rollins, who was considered one of the best jail administrators in the state, to advise him about issues in regards to inmate supervision; and relied on his training officers to keep him abreast of issues with officer certification.
Weiss pointed out written records from several department meetings held between 2008-2012 where Parker reportedly chastised detention center staff for being incompetent. Rollins and each of the department’s training officers, as well as several other Chesterfield County sheriff’s deputies, have testified that they tried bringing issues to Parker’s attention, but Parker seemed to disregard their advice. Each officer who has testified has also said Parker threatened to “fire or indict” anyone who questioned his authority. Parker admitted to making the threats, but said it was a leadership tool used by effective managers for getting attention and maintaining respect. Parker’s attorneys also pointed out Parker praised employees at every meeting, and said he was using positive and negative reinforcement to motivate personnel.
Parker became emotional on the stand when recalling an incident involving Lee throwing a bottle of bleach that struck Parker’s personal assistant, Jennifer Vaughn, who he referred to as being like a daughter to him.
Vaughn and Mike Hutson each testified Lee threw the bottle of bleach during an argument with Hutson while the three were cleaning the armory, and then Lee went and stood with Parker outside. Hutson said he demanded Lee be sent back to the detention center, but felt Parker offered him no support.
Parker testified Wednesday that he instructed Hutson at the time to send Lee back to the jail and have Lee transported back to Columbia, however Hutson did not follow through with the order. Hutson said during his testimony that Parker did instruct Hutson to “take him,” meaning Lee, but that in order to do so, Hutson would have had to physically remove Lee from the property, which he felt was unnecessary.
Hutson testified he believed Parker should have assumed control of the situation, which is what he was asking Parker to do. Vaughn said Parker told her at the time that he didn’t take control, because he didn’t see what happened. She added no one in the department felt raising an issue to Parker about Lee or Skipper would be properly addressed by Parker because Parker was friends with the inmates.
Parker said he didn’t take control of the situation because he expects his employees to perform their duties, and he’d delegated that responsibility to Hutson. Parker said he was unaware Lee was still in Chesterfield County until Hutson brought Lee by the sheriff’s office a few days later and Hutson told Parker he and Lee and worked things out. Parker said he told Hutson that wasn’t the way things were supposed to work, and Parker said he apologized to Vaughn for the incident not being properly addressed.
While on the stand Wednesday, Parker also addressed allegations he allowed inmates to travel out of the county. Parker said he was unaware of Lee going on a date in Florence until after SLED’s investigation began, as well as was unaware of Hutson taking Lee and Skipper to visit their families.
Parker also said he was unaware of any laws prohibiting him from deputizing citizens and issuing them firearms, citing a federal law called the Posse Comitatus Act.
Weiss said that law only applies in situations where law enforcement is in need of assistance apprehending an individual in a specific situation.
Another accusation Parker addressed on the stand Wednesday involved his depositing county funds in a private account.
Prosecutors have accused Parker of pocketing money from Law Enforcement Publications (LEP) and Pepsi Co. of Bennettsville. Defense attorneys argue that Parker himself is identified as the customer of LEP and Pepsi.
A representative from LEP testified last week that LEP’s regulations do not mandate who referral checks may be written to. Pepsi’s vice president said his company’s checks were made out to the Chesterfield County Detention Center, but some were sent to Parker’s home address. The Pepsi checks totaled less than $1,000
Parker said he had the checks from Pepsi cashed and the money was kept in a desk drawer in his office to use to purchase items for the department or spend on community fundraisers. He added the money he’s being questioned about wouldn’t come anywhere close to reimbursing him for personal funds he’s spent at the benefit of the county.
By the conclusion of court on Wednesday, both the prosecution and defense have rested their cases. Closing arguments are expected to be made Thursday morning by both sides, following by jury deliberation, which result in a verdict being handed down.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Former Chief Deputy And Parker's Personal Assistant Testify
Editor – The Link
Three members of the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Department, including suspended Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker’s chief deputy and Parker’s personal assistant, testified Tuesday in the sixth day of Parker’s trial.
Former chief deputy James Dixon, who is on leave of absence from the department to campaign for sheriff, was first to testify. Dixon said he was unaware of several of the allegations against Parker, such as the county owning a shrimp boat and guns being given to individuals who were non-sworn law enforcement officers, until after an investigation was begun by the State Law Enforcement Division.
Dixon admitted that prior to receiving training on inmate supervision, he had a former state inmate, Sonny Atkins, sent to perform work at his personal property on one occasion. Dixon said it was an isolated incident and that he did not use inmates for personal reasons after receiving training from the state, adding he also cautioned Parker about inmates Michael Lee and William Skipper having too much freedom. Dixon validated testimony given Monday by Robert Benfield of the S.C. Association of Counties that Benfield met with Dixon and Parker to address rumors Benfield heard about improper supervision of state inmates in Chesterfield.
Benfield said Parker’s response was that the inmates were “good boys that shouldn’t be treated like animals.” Dixon said Parker told Benfield changes would be made. Some time after the meeting, Lee and Skipper were no longer allowed to reside at the Chesterfield armory. Lee testified last week that he was told the change was made due to increased media scrutiny of the county following the discovery of dogs that were improperly euthanized at the county animal shelter.
Defense attorneys questioned why Dixon never reported problems he saw with the handling of inmates to state law enforcement officials. Dixon said it was because Parker made it very clear in department meetings that no one was to question Parker’s authority or they would be fired.
Lt. Spence Vaughn was the second person to take the stand Tuesday, and also testified to Parker making comments at meetings about “firing or indicting” anyone who messed with the state inmates.
Vaughn admitted he had gone on a fishing trip with Parker on the county boat, and said he also took William Skipper to church with him five or six times, which was the church some of Skipper’s family attended. Vaughn said he always transported Skipper in a marked patrol car, but added he quit attending church services because it was becoming a hassle having to take Skipper as his guest.
Vaughn’s wife, Jennifer, also testified at the end of the day Tuesday. Jennifer was Parker’s personal assistant for many years and kept Parker’s calendar, as well as recorded minutes at department meetings. Court went into recess for the day after state prosecutors questioned Jennifer, therefore she has not been cross-examined by the defense. The cross is scheduled for Wednesday morning.
On the stand Tuesday, Jennifer said she was authorized by Parker to sign his names on documents, but added she only did it after receiving permission from the sheriff for each signature. A shirt once worn by Jennifer on a department clean-up day was entered into evidence Tuesday due to the fact it was covered in bleach that was thrown in anger by Lee during a dispute with Deputy Mike Hutson.
Hutson testified last week that Lee was not properly obeying an order Hutson had given him, which led to an argument between the two men. Vaughn and Hutson each testified Lee threw the bottle of bleach, which splashed on Jennifer’s clothes and skin, and then Lee went and stood with Parker outside. Hutson said he demanded Lee be sent back to the detention center, but felt Parker offered him no support. Jennifer said she didn’t feel raising an issue to Parker about Lee or Skipper would be properly addressed by Parker because Parker was friends with the inmates. She said she preserved the shirt soiled by bleach, though, because she was concerned about the altercation between Hutson and Lee.
Near the conclusion of her testimony Tuesday, Jennifer recited notes she’d kept at department meetings between 2008-2012. She said the meetings first started with Parker spending time praising employees, however by the end they were filled mostly with threats and complaints. According to the notes that were read, most of Parker’s displeasure was about the county jail, where he said inmates had access to weapons, marijuana and alcohol.
Jennifer said she was also asked by Parker to take notes for her during telephone conversations the sheriff had with officials from SLED and prosecuting agencies the day after Parker had Lee removed from Chesterfield County. Jennifer said Parker called to alert officials of concerns he had that Lee may spread rumors about the time Lee spent in Chesterfield County. Jennifer said Parker never admitted to those officials any of the freedoms Lee had been given.
Along with questioning witnesses Tuesday, attorneys from the state and defense also verbally sparred with each other over what information could be presented.
Defense attorneys first objected to testimony about to be given by Dixon concerning a scholarship established by the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Department in honor of Sgt. Darryl Quick, who was an officer killed by a drunk driver in 2008.
Dixon said money raised by the department was supposed to be placed into an account that would be used by local high school students who were going to college. Dixon said he discovered Parker was allowing some of the funds from the account to be used to pay bills for deputies who had fallen on hard times, however.
Judge Lee S. Alford said he would not allow the testimony to be presented because it could be confusing to the jurors since the state’s charges against Parker do not include anything about the scholarship account.
Alford ruled the other way in reference to defense attorneys’ opposition of the vice president of Pepsi testifying, which concerned allegations that Parker personally profited from vending machines at the county jail and sheriff’s office.
Prosecutors said the arrangement with Pepsi was similar to that of Parker’s partnership with Law Enforcement Publications (LEP), with both Pepsi and LEP writing checks that should be made payable to the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office as opposed to Parker personally. Defense attorneys argued that Parker himself is identified as the customer of LEP and Pepsi.
A representative from LEP testified last week that LEP’s regulations do not mandate who referral checks may be written to. Pepsi’s vice president said his company’s checks were made out to the Chesterfield County Detention Center, but were sent to Parker’s home address. According to an official with Wachovia Bank, the Pepsi checks were endorsed with Sam Parker’s signature and deposited into Parker’s personal account.
At the conclusion of Tuesday’s session in court, Judge Alford informed jurors that all testimony should be heard by Thursday when deliberations are expected to begin.
Monday, April 14, 2014
Parker Trial Resumes With Testimony From 10 Witnesses
Editor – The Link
Ten witnesses, including two county employees also indicted by the state on charges of misconduct in office, testified Monday as the trial of suspended Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker continued.
Four current or former members of the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Department were included in the day’s witness list, all of whom said they tried to warn Parker he was violating state laws regarding inmate supervision. All four also said Parker told them specifically not to worry about the activities of two state inmates, Mike Lee and William Skipper, as well as threatened to “fire or indict” anyone who questioned him about them.
Robert Benfield, who conducts training classes on inmate supervision for the S.C. Association of Counties, also testified Monday that he had tried to warn Parker that rumors were circulating about Parker’s inappropriate handling of inmates.
“I told him if what I was hearing was true, then he needed to make changes immediately or he was going to wind up in jail,” said Benfield, who added Parker told Benfield he was right a year later after the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) opened a formal investigation.
Suspended county emergency preparedness director Harold Hainey was first to take the stand today, followed by suspended county jail administrator Ritchie Rollins. Both indicated state prosecutors have not offered them any deals for testifying against Parker, however Rollins admitted he hoped his cooperation would be result in lesser punishment if he pleads guilty to the charges against him.
During Hainey’s testimony, the former sheriff’s department captain admitted to having inappropriate dealings with two state inmates – Michael Lee and Sonny Atkins. Hainey said Atkins helped him restore two Jeeps, which Hainey sold for personal profit. He also admitted getting vending machines from Lee, however he said that endeavor proved to be a loss financially.
Hainey said he also transported Atkins to perform work at Major James Dixon’s home one time, and Rollins admitted he paid another state inmate, James Powell, to build a deck at Rollins’ home while Powell was under the supervision of a county deputy, who was on the clock at the time.
Hainey said Parker was unaware of Hainey’s dealings with the two inmates, also adding Hainey was unaware he was breaking the law until 2008 or 2009 when he attended a training class offered by the S.C. Association of Counties.
Hainey said he approached the instructor of the class, Robert Benfield, and confessed to breaking some of the rules that were discussed in the training. Hainey said Benfield advised him to stop breaking those rules, which Hainey said he did to the displeasure of Lee.
Lee also testified on Day 3 of the trial that he noticed an unexplained change in Hainey’s behavior, which led to Lee asking for a transfer from Chesterfield County. Prior to being granted the transfer, Lee was assigned to work at the Chesterfield armory, where he was no longer under Hainey’s supervision.
Hainey said after Lee was assigned to the armory, he saw Lee again violating rules, such as not wearing a uniform and driving county vehicles, which he brought to the attention of Parker. Hainey said he quit bringing the improprieties to Parker’s attention after Parker made a statement at a department meeting that questioning him about the inmates would lead to termination of employment.
Rollins said he was also unaware of regulations regarding inmate supervision until he attended Benfield’s class, and said he repeatedly shared that knowledge with Parker, which did not result in any changes.
When first interviewed by SLED agents in January 2013, Rollins reportedly described Lee as a pathological liar and said he had problems with Lee at the detention center because Lee attempted to present himself as an employee instead of an inmate.
Rollins said he was aware Parker hoped for Lee and Skipper to reside at the armory, but also added Blake Taylor of the S.C. Department of Corrections had indicated that move was not likely to be approved. Rollins said Parker allowed Skipper and Lee to stay at the armory anyway, and when Rollins questioned Parker about the decision, Parker’s response was, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”
Rollins also testified that once Parker was informed he was being investigated by SLED, he said, “If I go down, I’m taking everyone with me.”
Defense attorneys questioned the validity of Hainey’s and Rollins’ testimony, saying they had something to gain from cooperating with the state’s attorney general’s office since they were both also under indictment for misconduct in office.
Narcotics investigator Chris Page was the third witness to take the stand Monday, saying he had verbally warned Parker about the freedoms Skipper and Lee had, as well as wrote an anonymous letter to SLED and the S.C. Department of Corrections outlining his concerns. Page said shortly after his anonymous letter was sent, SCDC officials came to Chesterfield County to perform an inspection, and Parker began making comments that anyone employed by him who made complaints about Lee or Skipper would be fired or indicted.
When questioned about a county rescue boat outfitted for shrimping, Page testified he thought that was Parker’s personal property. Page, Hainey and Rollins all denied ever going fishing with Parker on the boat, as well as denied ever eating any shrimp caught on it.
Page also testified he helped Derrick Outen wire Parker’s house, and said Outen was given a county gun by Parker as payment. Parker’s attorneys have said Outen was given the gun because he was a reserve deputy and Parker expected Outen to return the firearm when he was no longer serving in that capacity.
Defense attorneys accused Page of having a personal vendetta against Parker and of supporting Parker’s opposition in an upcoming sheriff’s election. They also attempted to pick apart statements he made to investigators who questioned him on behalf of the prosecution and defense.
Page denied the attorneys’ claims and said he felt pressured in interviews.
“You have no idea what (sheriff’s department employees) went through during the time between when SLED’s investigation started and when Parker was removed (from office),” Page said.
Current jail administrator Sheila Gillespie was the fourth department employee to testify Monday, saying she also warned county staff about Lee’s cunningness, as well as raised concerns to Rollins about what she knew were violations of state laws in regards to inmate supervision. She said she personally created a log for state inmate transportation, which required deputies to sign inmates in and out of the jail. When asked why she started the log, Gillespie replied, “Because I knew this day was coming.”
Gillespie also testified that Parker once called and demanded a prisoner be released from jail before a judge set bond for the prisoner. She said she refused to obey the order until Parker came to the jail and presented her with a letter signed by him demanding the prisoner’s release.
Defense attorneys said the man taken into custody was a Hispanic charged for driving without a license. Parker’s attorney, Greg Harris, a white male, said if a deputy had stopped him for the same charge, Harris would have just been issued a courtesy summons.
Also testifying Monday were two county public works employees – David Deese and Tim Eubanks, who admitted using county equipment to perform work at Parker’s home. The men said they helped Parker install a swimming pool while on their lunch break.
A representative from Wells Fargo bank also testified that several checks made payable to the Chesterfield County Detention Center, totaling less than $1,000, had been deposited into Parker’s personal account.
Friday, April 11, 2014
Supervisors of 'Privileged' Inmates Testify During Fourth Day Of Trial
Editor – The Link
Daily supervisors of two inmates accused of being given special treatment by suspended Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker were called to testify in the fourth day of Parker’s trial Friday, as well as a Chesterfield woman who admitted engaging in sexual acts with one of the inmates.
Angela Hurst was first on the stand Friday, testifying that she knew inmate Michael Lee from their college days and that she’d become reacquainted with him after learning he was a state inmate serving time at the county jail.
Hurst said she was unaware when Parker initially found out she was visiting Lee, but that Parker was present while she was spending time with Lee at the Chesterfield armory. She said Parker even told her she didn’t have to leave when he was around.
Hurst said she stopped by to visit Lee almost every day and would bring him and inmate William Skipper food, as well as stick around the armory to eat, watch movies and have sex.
Hurst said she was called to Parker’s office the day before Lee was ordered by Parker to be removed from the Chesterfield County Detention Center. Hurst testified Parker said he’d heard rumors of Lee having sex with Parker’s wife and that Parker wanted Lee gone. According to testimony given throughout the week, Lee was transferred from Chesterfield to a different institution after Lee was accused of removing a pistol from a gun safe at the Chesterfield armory.
Parker’s attorneys pointed out Hurst still keeps in contact with Lee, and asked if she recognized Lee having animosity toward Parker for having him sent away from Chesterfield. Defense attorneys accuse Lee of saying his last remarks to Parker were, “Mark my words. I’m going to get you.” Lee denied making the statement when he testified in court on Thursday.
Hurst said Lee told her he was already seeking a transfer prior to the gun allegation due to the fact Parker had began acting differently around him.
Mike Hudson and David Rivers were the next two witnesses to testify on Friday, with defense attorneys pointing out Hudson and Rivers were mostly responsible for supervising Lee and Skipper. Prosecutors argued that Hudson and Rivers were never properly certified for supervising inmates, nor were they given any training to prepare them for that role.
Hudson, a Class III officer specializing in arson investigation, said he questioned the liberties Lee and Skipper seemed to have, but that Parker told him it was OK. He said Parker was aware the two inmates were being taken out to eat and allowed to shop.
Rivers said the inmates were allotted $75 per month from the county for groceries and that he would accompany them to the store to make their purchases. Rivers and Hudson said they were also aware Lee ordered personal items online, and admitted those packages were not screened. The deputies also admitted they knew Skipper and Lee often had guests at the armory, and those guests were never properly screened or searched.
Both Rivers and Hudson admitting knowing a boat purchased with county funds was being used by Parker on fishing trips. Hudson said Parker gave him a small bag of shrimp once, but both Rivers and Hudson denied ever being invited or attending any public fish fries held by the department.
Hudson and Rivers each testified Parker’s vision for the armory was upgrading it to a quick response facility with inmates staying on site to have special response team vehicles and gear ready to deploy upon officers’ arrival. They each bragged on the work performed by Skipper, who turned the one-story motor pool into a two-story command center. Hudson the project was completed around Christmas time, and he asked Parker for permission to reward the inmates by taking them to see their families. Hudson said Parker’s response was not to tell Parker if he did it.
“I’ve known Sam Parker all my life,” Hudson said. “If his answer was no, he would have just told me no and not to do it.”
Hudson said he drove Skipper to see his father in Holden Beach, N.C., where Skipper also picked up his personal tool set to perform additional work in Chesterfield County. Hudson, who is a pilot, flew Lee in Hudson’s personal aircraft to Charleston where he could visit his wife and daughter.
“It was a three-hour drive or a 30-minute flight. So that’s why we flew,” Hudson testified. “It wasn’t trying to be luxurious.”
Hudson and Rivers testified knowing Skipper had performed work on Parker’s private property, but each stated it was not at Parker’s request. Skipper also testified Thursday that any work he performed at Parker’s was done of his own free will.
“Skipper is one of those guys who doesn’t sit still,” said Hudson. “He’s always wanting to work.”
The fourth person to take the stand Friday was Tim Hunt, a former Class II officer who supervised Lee and Skipper after Rivers and Hudson.
Although the armory was outfitted with security cameras, Hunt, Rivers and Hudson all said they did not have access to the video, and Lee and Hurst each testified that Lee knew how to disable the cameras.
Hunt said he transported Lee and Skipper to Parker’s residence on several occasions, including once to help install Parker’s swimming pool. Hunt, Hudson and Rivers all said they saw several pieces of county property at Parker’s residence, but also each said it was common practice for county employees to use their personal equipment to perform county tasks. All three said they didn’t consider the swaps an issue.
Hunt testified that he and Lt. Troy Timney of the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Department retrieved all county property from Parker’s residence after agents from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) opened an investigation into the department for misconduct.
Hunt also testified that Parker was unaware Lee had purchased a tanning bed that was placed in the closet of Parker’s office upstairs at the armory until it was revealed during SLED’s investigation. Lee testified Parker’s wife was one of several women who used the tanning bed.
The fifth witness Friday was Dana Wallace, who was assigned by Parker to supervise Lee and Skipper at nights for about six weeks while Wallace recovered from an injury.
Wallace said his shift typically lasted until Lee and Skipper went to bed. Prosecutors pointed out Wallace also did not have proper certification for supervising inmates, nor was he given any training to prepare him for that role.
Wallace said he was aware Lee and Skipper were allowed to have visitors and receive packages and that he also did not check either for contraband. He said Lee once asked about going to Outback in Florence for supper, and that Parker gave Wallace approval for the trip.
Wallace also testified that he had gone shrimping with Parker, but that he was unaware what happened with the shrimp that was caught and that he’d never been invited to any department or community shrimp broils hosted by the sheriff’s department.
Defense attorneys accused Wallace of making allegations against Parker in hopes of SLED not charging Wallace with crimes due to the fact Wallace allowed Lee and Skipper to drink alcohol at Outback, as well as allowed Skipper to install a stereo system in a vehicle for Wallace’s son.
Wallace disputed the attorney’s claims, saying he had also made SLED agents aware of those improprieties.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Two 'Privileged' Inmates Testify During Third Day Of Trial
Editor – The Link
Two inmates who were allegedly allowed special privileges by suspended Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker were among four witnesses who testified Thursday during the third day of Parker’s trial.
Michael Lee, a state inmate serving a 15-year sentence for arson, spent the majority of the day on the witness stand, being interviewed by prosecutors for nearly four hours. He claimed serving time in Chesterfield was “pretty cozy” and testified to setting up a personal bank account and spending money decorating his living quarters, entertaining two women, eating and drinking alcohol with law enforcement officers, buying a tanning bed that was hidden in the office closet of the sheriff and entering business deals with his supervisor. Defense attorneys immediately attacked Lee’s credibility when given an opportunity to cross examine the witness, challenging him on at least one claim Lee admitted was false.
Lee said he arrived in Chesterfield County as a state inmate participating in a designated facility program in March of 2007. The classification meant Lee could perform work for the county outside of the confines of the Chesterfield County Detention Center as opposed to being locked in a cell all day.
Lee said he arrived in Chesterfield on a Thursday and first met with jail administrator Ritchie Rollins the following Monday. Lee said Rollings seemed to be a nice guy and allegedly told Lee that Lee could do whatever he wanted at the detention center as long as Lee behaved.
Among the privileges Lee claimed to have included being able to purchase groceries for himself and luxury items such as a refrigerator, television, bed mattress and linens to keep in his cell. Lee said he was also allowed to wear clothing other than department issued garments identifying him as an inmate.
Lee testified the first supervisor he was assigned to work for was Capt. Harold Hainey, who had Lee cleaning cars and performing other duties in the Chesterfield County impound. Lee said he became friends with Hainey and would often go out to eat with Hainey, Rollings and Chesterfield County Public Works Director Tim Eubanks. He said he was also allowed to purchase a grill that was kept at the impound and he would often prepare meals for the men to consume.
Lee said that prior to being incarcerated, he owned a vending machine company in Orangeburg along with his wife. During a dispute between Lee and his wife over money, Lee said his wife told him she would give him 500 machines worth about $50,000 if someone in his family could retrieve them. Lee testified that he told Hainey about the proposal, and Hainey drove Lee to retrieve the machines. Lee said on the trip he also brought back several boxes of clothes to Chesterfield, which were kept at the impound where Lee was allowed to spend most of his time.
Lee also testified that while performing a work detail for the county at the convenience center located across from the jail, he encountered a woman he had met in college. Lee said the two became reacquainted and she began visiting him regularly at the county impound. He said the friendship eventually became a sexual relationship that he maintained throughout the course of his stay in Chesterfield County.
Lee testified his friendship with Hainey and Rollings begin to deteriorate after Parker found Lee’s vending machines on county property. Lee said he claimed possession of the machines and Parker never commented on them, but Parker’s defense attorney said Parker instructed Hainey to get the machines out of county storage.
Lee said because he felt tension from Hainey and Rollings, he requested a transfer from the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Department. However, before the transfer was approved, Lee said he was given an opportunity to work at the Chesterfield armory under the supervision of arson investigators Mike Hutson and David Rivers. A second state inmate sent to Chesterfield County for the designated facility program, William Skipper, who testified at the end of the day Thursday, was also working at the armory.
A contractor by trade, Skipper said he performed a lot of construction projects at the armory, as well as worked on heating and air conditioning units at county facilities. Skipper testified he did the bulk of the work, while Lee admitted being mostly a gopher who assisted as needed.
The two men testified they renovated the armory in about seven weeks, turning the former one-story motor pool into a two-story facility that could be used by the department’s special response team (SRT). Both inmates testified that Parker’s vision was to have the two inmates reside at the armory and have vehicles ready to respond to emergencies when SRT members arrived.
Lee and Skipper said Parker ran the idea by Blake Taylor, who is an official with the S.C. Department of Corrections. Taylor testified Wednesday that Parker pitched the idea, but that Taylor did not feel the idea would work due to lack of security at the armory.
Lee and Skipper testified that about a week after Parker’s tour of the facility with Taylor, they were allowed to move into the armory and occupied two separate bedrooms. The facility was equipped with video cameras, however Lee testified he knew how to deactivate the cameras, which he did on multiple occasions, including while having sex with a female visitor. Taylor also testified Wednesday that video surveillance of inmates was not sufficient supervision, and that a Class I or Class II officer must be present with inmates at all times.
While allegedly living at the armory, Lee and Skipper said they made regular trips to Parker’s home, including going out to eat with Parker’s family. They each testified to attending parties at the Parker residence, as well as swimming in Parker’s pool.
Lee also testified to being set up on a blind date with one of Parker’s wife’s friends from Florence, who also testified in court Thursday. The female friend said she was unaware Lee was an inmate until last year when agents of the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) interviewed her about her contact with Lee. She said she was also unaware Parker’s wife had given Lee a photo of her and her 7-year-old daughter that was on a Christmas card she had sent the Parker. Lee allegedly had the photo as a screen saver on his personal computer, which was one of many items he allegedly ordered online and had delivered to the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Department.
Defense attorneys said Parker himself was not involved personally in regards to any of Lee’s interactions with the female from Florence.
After listening to about four hours worth of testimony, Parker’s attorneys started their cross examination by immediately attacking Lee’s credibility. According to facts presented by the defense, Lee lied to SLED agents, the state grand jury and everyone present in the courtroom Thursday by claiming to hold a Master’s Degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Carolina. When grilled about the diploma, Lee admitted he had lied under oath.
Defense attorneys also grilled Lee about deceiving Parker’s wife’s friend who was unaware he was a convict. Lee said he didn’t deceive the woman; he just withheld the information.
Defense attorneys also said Lee’s last words to Parker after Parker informed Lee he was being removed from Chesterfield County custody and being sent back to the Department of Corrections were, “Mark my words. I’m going to get you.” Lee denied making the statement.
Lee testified he was sent back to SCDC after Parker accused Lee of removing a gun from a gun safe at the Chesterfield armory. Lee said he did not have access to the gun safe and there were other deputies in the armory with the safe opened when the accusation was made. Lee said prior to the allegations about the gun, which were made in August 2012, he had been told by deputies that change was coming in September. He said he had already been prohibited from staying at the armory overnight, which was a change made in March 2011 when news crews from throughout the area and nation were heavily reporting on dogs that had been shot and killed by local law enforcement officers.
According to testimony Thursday, Skipper was released from custody in February 2011 after completing his sentence. Skipper testified that Parker never instructed him to do any work on personal property, but that if he saw work that needed to be done he took it upon himself to help.
“I’m just one of those people who’d rather work and stay busy than waste the day away,” Skipper said.
Prosecutors showed construction equipment was purchased using a work license held by Skipper, and that Parker gave about $1,000 worth of equipment to Skipper when he was released from jail. Skipper said it would have been unlawful for any unlicensed person to operate the equipment and added he offered to pay for the materials.
Skipper said Parker informed him not to worry about payment and they entered an agreement that if the tools could be used to repair county property, Skipper would do the work. Skipper testified that he has performed work on county property at no charge since his release.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Members Of Sheriff's Command Staff Testify During Second Day Of Trial
Editor – The Link
The trial of suspended Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker entered its second day Wednesday with six witnesses testifying, including two members of Parker’s command staff and two representatives from the S.C. Department of Corrections.
The day began with testimony from J.E. Aldridge who was in possession of an M-14 rifle belonging to the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Department that was recovered after Aldridge’s gun safe was stolen.
Although he was not a full-time employee of the CCSD, Aldridge said he asked Parker about shooting the gun because Aldridge carried an M-14 when he was in the S.C. National Guard. He said Parker allowed him to borrow the weapon, but Aldridge never got to shoot it and he returned the rifle about six months later when the department was performing an audit. A short time later, Parker informed Aldridge the weapon wasn’t performing accurately for deputies who were firing it, so the gun was given to Aldridge to inspect. Aldridge said it was at that time his gun safe was stolen, and when deputies recovered the safe and majority of his guns, they also recovered and took back into possession the M-14.
The two deputies who testified today – Lts. John McArn and Troy Timney – were each asked about the department’s reserve program, the department’s shrimp boat and two S.C. Department of Corrections inmates who allegedly lived at the former Chesterfield armory unsupervised.
McArn’s duties included scheduling reserve officers to work with Class 1 officers, while Timney’s duties including making sure officers were properly trained and certified.
Both McArn and Timney admitted there were reserve deputies who had not attended the appropriate classes at the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy. The reason given for most was because reserves are volunteers with full-time jobs that created conflicts in scheduling extended training at the academy. Timney singled out one reserve officer however, Jim Foxworth, who was prohibited from attending the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy due to being charged with theft of less than $1,000 prior to his move to Chesterfield County years ago.
McArn and Timney also each admitted they were aware of two state inmates – William Skipper and Michael Lee – residing at the Chesterfield armory. Testimony provided throughout the week indicate the two inmates have been seen traveling in vehicles and eating at restaurants unsupervised, as well as having keys to the gate and other areas inside the former armory used by the CCSD.
McArn, Timney and Lt. Wayne Jordan have each testified this week that they did not raise concerns about the activities of Lee and Skipper because Parker warned deputies at a department meeting that anyone who bothered Lee and Skipper would be punished. Timney said Parker specifically defined punishment as being fired or indicted.
Defense attorneys have suggested that if Parker made such a comment, it should be included in notes recorded at the meeting. No one has testified in the first two days of the trial who was responsible for keeping records at department meetings.
During his testimony, Timney also admitted having Skipper work on Timney’s personal property, as well as using a lawn mower seized by the CCSD to mow grass at his home. He also said a welding machine seized by the department was used by a friend of Parker’s.
As for the shrimp boat, Timney and McArn each denied having ever been on it or having eaten any shrimp prepared by Parker. McArn said he was aware of shrimp broils being hosted by Parker where many members of the community were invited, including law enforcement officers, judges and attorneys.
The afternoon session was taken up by more than three hours of testimony by Blake Taylor and Robert Ellison Jr. of the S.C. Department of Corrections who said the armory was not an appropriate facility for housing inmates, especially without on-site supervision. Parker’s defense attorneys countered with questions concerning the evolution of inmate security, which now allows low-risk, non-violent offenders to speak to children at schools and attend church services.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Neilson Not Certified As Candidate For State House
Editor – The Link
Former S.C. Rep. Denny Neilson, who served in the state House as a Democrat from 1984-2013 representing District 56, has been disqualified as a candidate to seek office in District 53 as a Republican candidate.
Neilson attempted March 30 to file as a Republican for the District 53 House seat held by Rep. Ted Vick, who announced he would not be seeking re-election. Neilson hoped to challenge Richie Yow for the Republican nomination in June, with the winner facing either Anthony Waymyers or Amy Brown, who filed as Democrats, in the November general election.
Chesterfield County Republican Party Chairman Jack Parker said Neilson’s filing could not be certified due to the fact she did not live in the district she hoped to represent at the time of her filing.
According to Parker, when Neilson filled out her paperwork March 30, she did not have a valid Chesterfield County driver’s license nor was she a registered voter in Chesterfield County. The electricity had also not been turned on at the residence she listed as her address on her filing form, and twice on the form she mistakenly wrote Darlington as her address before scratching it out to print an address in Chesterfield County.
Trial Gets Underway For Suspended Sheriff
Editor – The Link
Opening arguments were presented by attorneys on both sides of suspended Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker’s trial today.
State prosecutors accuse Parker of misconduct in office, embezzling county funds and providing contraband to inmates, while defense attorneys say Parker was doing all he could with limited resources to make the county as safe as possible. Parker’s attorneys said the state’s claims of corruption are really nothing more than contractual disputes, regulation violations and policy violations.
Ten witnesses were called to testify Tuesday, beginning with Lt. Wayne Jordan, who was questioned about issuing firearms to individuals not employed by the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Department. Also testifying Tuesday were Eric Bozard, Derrick Outen, Bobby Jordan, Lance Aldridge and Dan Barber, who received guns from the department.
Defense attorneys said the men who received guns all had ties to the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Department and were all familiar with firearms and capable of using them.
Officer certifications and classifications were also discussed at length on the opening day of the trial, with questions raised about “reserve” and “Class III” officers, which was the designation given to many of the individuals who were not full-time employees of the CCSD but received department-issued firearms. Brandy Duncan of the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy testified that Chesterfield County’s reserve officer program had not been approved by the state, adding that after Parker was indicted in spring 2013, an audit was done of the department revealing six officers that weren’t properly certified.
Outen and Bobby Jordan also testified to performing work at Parker’s private property, as well as seeing inmates and other county employees performing jobs there. Barber was questioned about a rescue boat acquired by Parker for the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Department that was outfitted as a shrimping boat. Defense attorneys said the shrimping boat was used as a tool for improving morale, because the seafood caught was brought back to Chesterfield County where it was fried for department gatherings or community events.
Attorneys have indicated they expect this trial to last well into next week.
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Cheraw Names New Boys Basketball Coach
Editor – The Link
Cheraw High School has named its next head boys basketball coach.
Former Manning head coach Jacob Smith will be taking over the helm of the Braves program next season. A press conference to formally introduce Smith will be held next week at Cheraw High School.