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.
According to Nexstar affiliate WJZY in Charlotte, the investigation began in November after sheriff’s Lt. Trevor Murphy sent the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division information containing allegations against the sheriff, including body camera video from the Tasing incident.
“A couple of months ago when we were able to acquire some evidence that was indisputable, there’s no denying it, at that point we knew that anonymous wasn’t working anymore, that somebody had to step out,” Murphy said. “I wish I’d done it a year ago, two years ago when some of this stuff happened. But now that we had everything ready to go forward on it, it was time to step out and I know I needed to do it.”
Murphy, who recently posted on social media that he was no longer with the department, offered more insight into his decision.
“It was scary that you’re potentially standing up to the most powerful man in the county who is backed by a system that’s been historically oppressive. It’s very scary But, we knew it had to be done and it was necessary.”
When asked if he had regrets, Murphy said: “It was terrifying, even now as I stand here. There’s still some kind of iffy feelings, butterflies in my stomach just because of the magnitude of the situation. It was scary, but at the end of the day it was necessary, and if I’m going to be a man of my word and the man of my character, I had to do it, and that’s what I want my son to do and I need to do what I want my son to do in a tough situation.”
A video of the incident, provided by WJZY, begins with inmate Jarrel Lee Johnson standing next to several law enforcement officials in the jail, including Lemon.
Lemon orders the officials to 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 two minutes.
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 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 Lemon responded to the jail and Johnson later assaulted Lemon as he was trying 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. Neither he nor Cook are in custody, but arraignments are 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.
Deputy Cook resigned from the department in July 2021. He had been there since 2018.
News13 reached out to Lemon for a statement. He hung up on the call before News13 could ask him for comment.