Chesterfield County Sheriff Sanford (“Sam”) Marion Parker, Jr. was suspended by Governor Nikki Haley on March 20, 2013 after the charges were announced by the Attorney General’s Office. Following his arrest, Sheriff Parker was released on a $150,000 personal recognizance bond.
In a 20-page indictment, Parker was accused of using two state prisoners assigned to his custody to work on his home and personal property; in return, the prisoners were allowed to effectively reside outside the jail, go on shopping trips (some of them out-of-state), have access to guns and sheriff’s vehicles, and have unsupervised visits with women, among other perks.
Further, Parker allegedly gave firearms owned or seized by the county to private citizens, including an M-14 rifle and a sniper rifle. He was accused of using a boat purchased with county funds as a personal shrimping boat, and keeping county vehicles at his home for personal use – including a five-ton military truck, a trailer and a John Deere “Gator” vehicle.
Prosecutors also accused Parker of appointing deputies and “Reserve Officers” who never received state-mandated training or certification required under South Carolina law. They were allowed to wear Sheriff’s Department uniforms and badges, which, according to the indictment, “improperly conveyed that they possessed the authority to enforce the law within Chesterfield County.” These actions also violated South Carolina Code provisions related to records that must be filed with the State Criminal Justice Academy.
Michael Lee, who was serving a 15-year sentence for felony arson, was one of the prisoners involved in Sheriff Parker’s alleged misconduct. According to the indictment, Lee was transferred to Chesterfield County in 2007 under the state’s Designated Facilities Program, and stayed there until August 17, 2012, when, at Parker’s request, he was returned to state custody.
Lee, a trained engineer, reportedly lived at the Weapons Armory, which he helped refurbish, where he was allowed access to computers, a TV and Sheriff’s Department vehicles and firearms, and had “unsupervised visits” with female visitors. He also hosted dinners and parties at the Armory and at Parker’s home, and spent holidays with the Sheriff’s family. He frequently traveled to North Carolina to shop and even traveled “in a private aircraft piloted by a Sheriff’s Deputy” for a family visit. Further, he allegedly used drugs and alcohol.
Another state prisoner, William Skipper, serving a seven-year sentence for drug trafficking, also was transferred to Chesterfield County under the Designated Facilities Program and remained in Parker’s custody for three years, ending in February 2012 when he was released. He too lived at the Armory and enjoyed many of the same privileges as Lee, including out-of-state personal trips. A licensed general contractor and HVAC repairman, Skipper reportedly built a recreation building at Parker’s home and was allowed to “[t]ake HVAC materials belonging to Chesterfield County for his personal use” upon his release.
Parker had worked in law enforcement for over four decades prior to his indictment and had been Chesterfield County’s Sheriff since 2003. According to his attorney, Parker’s career was spotless. “In all his time in law enforcement, you won’t find anyone with a better reputation than Sam Parker,” said attorney Johnny Gasser.
Parker engaged in activities that law enforcement agencies have allowed rural sheriffs to do for decades, Gasser stated: “No one ever came to the sheriff and told him he was doing anything wrong.” Parker simply “got tripped up by confusing regulations,” he added. “Sam Parker is not a criminal.”
Parker’s claim that he was unaware of the criminal nature of his interactions with prisoners Lee and Skipper will face tough scrutiny, however, given that other South Carolina sheriffs have been convicted for engaging in similar conduct in recent years.
Former Saluda County Sheriff Jason Booth pleaded guilty to misconduct in office in August 2012, for using a prisoner to build a “party shed” and other structures on his land. The prisoner was also allowed to spend nights outside the jail, eat at restaurants and attend parties on Booth’s property. Booth was sentenced to a year in prison, suspended to five months of probation, and fined $1,000. [See: PLN, Nov. 2012, p.50].
Former Abbeville County Sheriff Charles Goodwin resigned in January 2013 and was sentenced to 10 years, suspended to five years’ probation, plus $4,445 in restitution after admitting he took kickbacks from a vehicle repair shop and used a prisoner to perform personal work. And former Lee County Sheriff E.J. Melvin is currently serving 17 years in federal prison following his November 2010 conviction on drug conspiracy and racketeering charges, making Parker the fourth South Carolina sheriff in three years to face prosecution.
The South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association announced in March 2013 that it would hold a training session to inform sheriffs about their conduct while in office.
“Some of the allegations that’ve been made may just be misinterpretations of the law,” said Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster. “The other ones, such as [prisoners] working on private property or doing private work, there’s no misinterpretation of that and nobody condones that. But the other thing that we’re concerned about as sheriffs is getting a little bit more definitive answer about what you can and you can’t do.”
Sources: Associated Press, Charlotte Observer, Augusta Chronicle, www.foxcharlotte.com, www.wjbf.com
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