MARLBORO COUNTY, S.C. (WJZY) — A pair of Florence County deputies closed in on the defense table inside Courtroom 3B; a table where suspended Marlboro County Sheriff Charles Lemon and former Marlboro County Deputy Andrew Cook stood.
Both men had just entered not guilty pleas to charges of misconduct in office and assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.
Within seconds of South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles’ announcement of a $25,000 surety bond and a no contact order against Lemon and Cook, a deputy reached around his back and pulled out a pair of black handcuffs.
The deputy grabbed Lemon’s right hand and slapped a handcuff around his wrist. The suspended sheriff turned toward the deputy, who motioned for Lemon to turn around. The deputy handcuffed Lemon’s wrists together. The once most-powerful law enforcer in Marlboro County had his hands behind his back and escorted out of a side door of the courtroom.
Cook was led into the door first, then Lemon. The pair were followed inside by two State Law Enforcement Division agents.
Just minutes earlier Lemon stepped off the third-floor elevator at the Florence County Justice Center Tuesday, flanked by one of the state’s most well-known criminal litigators. Lemon was summoned to the courthouse for an arraignment on charges related to the May 2020 tasing of Jarrel Johnson, an inmate inside the Marlboro County Detention Center.
Cook also didn’t arrive alone, carrying with him an attorney and two rother employees of the law firm.
Last Tuesday, the Marlboro County grand jury indicted Lemon and former former Marlboro County Sheriff’s Deputy David Andrew Cook, each on one count of misconduct in office and assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.
Along with the bond, the judge ordered the men to have no contact with anyone employed by the Marlboro County Sheriff’s Office, “direct or indirect” contact Nettles ordered.
“It certainly seems to be a situation which Mr. Johnson, and I don’t know exactly why he was doing the things he was doing, but he was out of control, disorderly, combative, not following instructions,” Lemon’s attorney, Morgan Martin told the judge during Tuesday’s hearing.
Martin argued Lemon’s actions “…were reasonable and necessary in the scheme of what happened.” Morgan blamed Johnson for the actions Cook took in the video and Lemon’s commands to use a Taser on Johnson multiple times, even though the video showed Johnson appearing to move toward his jail cell as Cook continued tasing him.
“Pop it to him,” Lemon yelled in the video recording multiple times.
South Carolina Senior Deputy Attorney General Heather Weiss told the judge Johnson was being “uncooperative” when Cook and jailers worked to book him into jail on May 3, 2020. Cook arrested Johnson after investigators said the man attacked his father with a baseball bat causing serious “bodily injury.”
Weiss loaded the body camera video to a laptop and handed the computer to Nettles during the Dec. 21 arraignment. Nettles and his law clerk watched the video and the sound of Lemon and Cook’s voices echoed off the courtroom walls.
Both men stood at the defense table and said nothing as the recording played.
“You’ve seen the video and it’s one of those things you’d need to watch multiple times to get every facet of what was there. It’s clear, and we believe, that Sheriff Lemon and the other deputy involved were doing the best they could to get him into the cell without any violence, without anyone getting hurt,” Martin told the judge.
Martin also pointed out Cook used a “non-lethal” taser on Johnson to gain compliance, appearing to make the point that Cook and Lemon had alternative compliance tools they could have chosen to use on the inmate.
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“The taser is a non-lethal weapon – or device if you want to call it that I don’t think it’s a weapon – given to law enforcement in order to try to maintain control and that was used here. And I think the sheriff even said, so that the inmate would know; arrestee, ‘Tase him if he doesn’t go into the cell’ and as soon as they take the handcuffs off of him, he puts a spin move on them and he goes toward the officers and that’s when he’s tased,” Martin explained.
The law enforcers, according to Lemon’s attorney, had to use force against Johnson to maintain order in the jail, “I will say, in a jail setting, somebody’s got to be in control and the question is: is that going to be law enforcement or is it going to be people that have been arrested and brought there.”
“There is more than one side to this story,” Martin said in closing, noting Johnson’s size: six foot, three inches and 250 pounds, was a contributing factor in the force Lemon and Cook chose to use against the inmate.
Lemon and Cook were driven back to the Marlboro County jail by two SLED agents. Lemon in one car, Cook in another. Cook stepped out of the front passenger seat of the police cruiser with his hands cuffed in front of his body.
Lemon got out of the front seat of the other SLED patrol car and did not have handcuffs on.
Both men were let into the Marlboro County Detention Center. Lemon walked through a door into the booking area and stood against a gray wall to have his mugshot taken. Cook was fingerprinted while Lemon was photographed.
When Lemon’s mugshots were taken Cook stepped in front of the camera and a jailer held Lemon’s hands as she rolled his fingers through an ink pad and pressed his fingertips onto a fingerprint pad. Both men spent just 47 minutes inside the jail before being escorted out of the jail’s public entrance, escorted by employees of Cook’s law firm.
“The defendants have no comment,” one of the men shouted as Lemon and Cook rushed behind toward a black Dodge Charger.
The judge did not announce a date for the next court appearance. The cases will be prosecuted by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office.
FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WJZY) — A week after the Marlboro County grand jury indicted Sheriff Charles Lemon and former deputy Andrew Cook, neither have been arrested. Both men have remained free awaiting arraignment on charges connected to a May 2020 tasing of inmate Jarrel Johnson.
On Dec. 14, the county grand jury indicted Lemon and Cook each on one count of misconduct in office and assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature for the use of force exerted upon Johnson near the holding cells.
The assault and battery charge is a felony and a lesser included charge of attempted murder in South Carolina.
Both men are set for an arraignment in front of South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and could be asked to enter a plea. The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting both Lemon and Cook. Although the pair were indicted in Marlboro County and would likely be tried there, the state moved their arraignments to Florence County late last week.
The AG’s office announced the indictments around 12:30 p.m. last Tuesday. The governor signed an executive order immediately suspending Lemon from office. The order describes the governor’s power to suspend a sheriff, citing Article IV, Section 8 of the South Carolina Constitution, “…any officer of the State or its political subdivision…who has been indicted by a grand jury for a crime involving moral turpitude…may be suspended by the Governor until he shall have been acquitted.”
If Lemon is convicted of the charges, the office would be deemed vacant and Marlboro County voters would elect a new sheriff. If acquitted before the end of Lemon’s current term, he would return to power to complete his remaining service. If Lemon’s case isn’t resolved before the next election in November 2024, a new election for sheriff would occur.
Lemon is at the end of the first year of a four-year term. The suspended sheriff was first elected in 2016 and won re-election in November 2020.
The body camera video has remained hidden inside the Marlboro County Sheriff’s Office since the recording was created May 3, 2020. The video released to FOX 46 was recorded using a cell phone camera as the original body camera video played on the sheriff department’s squad room laptop. The office has not been able to produce a copy of the original recording and the original copy was deleted.
“To the best of our knowledge, we, at the Sheriff’s Office, are unable to locate any other copy,” Marlboro County Sheriff’s Captain Sara Albarri wrote in a South Carolina Freedom of Information Act request response to FOX 46 Chief Investigative Reporter Jody Barr. Albarri’s letter indicates the sheriff’s office once had a hard drive labeled “body cam hard drives,” but Albarri indicated the sheriff’s office does not know where that hard drive is today.
“SLED May [sic] have the body cam hard drives,” Albarri wrote in the Dec. 16 response letter.
Our Dec. 10 SCFOIA also requested copies of any jailhouse surveillance camera recording of the Johnson tasing, something that doesn’t exist, Albarri confirmed. “During the time of the incident, the Marlboro County Detention Center’s camera system only went back 15 days before being deleted. The camera system has since been replaced, and there is no jail surveillance of the incident,” Albarri wrote in the Dec. 16 response letter.
The letter also confirms the sheriff’s office never retained copies of the recordings before the system deleted the recordings on May 18, 2020.
Stay with FOX 46’s livestream of the 1:30 p.m. hearing live from Florence County, SC.