South Carolina sheriff and deputy charged with assault, misconduct in office

Southeast Region

Marlboro County Sheriff Charles Lemon ignored multiple messages from FOX 46 seeking to schedule an interview. Lemon confirmed in an Oct. 15, 2021 letter that his office did not investigate criminal allegations involving former Marlboro County Deputy Probate Judge Tammy Bullock. (WJZY Photo/Jody Barr)

MARLBORO COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Marlboro County Sheriff Charles Lemon and former Deputy David Andrew Cook have been charged after officials said they unlawfully deployed a taser at a person at the Marlboro County Detention Center.

Lemon and Cook have been charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, along with misconduct in office, according to an announcement Tuesday morning by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson.

The charges stem from a May 2020 incident in which Wilson said that Lemon ordered Cook to deploy his taser, and then “unlawfully continued to activate the taser at least two times after the initial deployment to subdue the suspect while inside the jail.” The taser was deployed into the person’s chest and leg, according to the announcement.

The video of the incident, provided by WJZY in Charlotte, begins with inmate Jarrel Lee Johnson standing next to several law enforcement officials in the jail, including Sheriff Charles Lemon.

Lemon orders that officials remove the inmate’s handcuffs and “tase the hell out of him”. Lemon is heard on the video saying, “When y’all take the handcuffs off of him- when he turn around, stick that taser to his head”.

The sheriff then yells several things, including about how he knows Johnson’s whole family. He goes on to yell, “give him what he asked for”.

Johnson’s handcuffs are then removed by jail officials and that’s when Johnson turns around and appears to lunge towards the sheriff. After that, more yelling is heard and the sheriff continues to demand that the taser be deployed to Johnson more. This video lasts for a little over 2:00.

The assault “was likely to produce great bodily injury or death,” according to the indictments.

In a release from the sheriff’s office on the date of the May 2020 incident, the department initially said that Johnson had been charged for beating someone with a bat. The initial release said a law enforcement official later asked for help at the detention center because Johnson’s behavior was “putting the safety of the jail at risk”. The sheriff’s office said Sheriff Lemon responded to the jail and later, Johnson assaulted Sheriff Lemon as he was attempting to flee from his cell.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Lemon was seen cleaning out a vehicle and getting into a truck, and leaving with a SLED agent. He is not yet in custody and has an arraignment scheduled for next week.

On Tuesday evening, a reporter asked Sheriff Lemon if there was anything he wanted to say about the indictments. Sheriff Lemon, talking about a homicide that happened Tuesday in the county, responded, “We got a murder down there. Why don’t you go down there and see if you can help solve that murder?”

If convicted of the assault charges, the men can face up to 20 years in prison. They could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for the misdemeanor charge of common law misconduct in office.

Gov. Henry McMaster has suspended Lemon from office and appointed former Bennettsville Police Department Chief Larry McNeil as interim sheriff until Lemon is acquitted, convicted, until if the indictment is disposed of or until a sheriff is elected in the next general election, according to an announcement. Cook is no longer employed by law enforcement agencies.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Marlboro County Schools said McNeil was resigning effective immediately from his position as chairman of the district’s board of education. The board plans to call a special meeting to address the resignation.

News13 reached out to Lemon for a statement. He hung up on the call before News13 could ask him for comment.

News13 also reached out to Marlboro County Administrator Ron Munnerlyn for a statement.

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