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“There you go, Agent Orange!” Former South Carolina Sheriff Federally Indicted for Assaulting Jail Detainee

by Ed Lyon

Charles B. Lemon, the former Sheriff of South Carolina’s Marlboro County, pleaded not guilty on February 6, 2024, to federal civil rights charges laid out in an indictment unsealed two weeks earlier. Lemon and former Deputy Dep. David A. Cook were both accused in a brutal assault on a detainee at the county jail.

The incident unfolded on May 3, 2020, when local pastor Ronnie Johnson was attacked with a baseball bat on his way to church by his son, Jarrel Johnson. The assailant’s mother, Angena Johnson, blamed stress from the younger Johnson’s recent divorce, insisting she and her husband had no prior conflict with him. But Johnson also menaced a church neighbor with the same weapon used on his father, so he was arrested.

Taken to the county lockup, he told jailers his name was “Agent Orange.” They responded to his bizarre behavior by putting him in holding cell and calling for backup. Surveillance video captured what happened when Lemon arrived.

“I know your whole family. I know you [] ain’t nobody,” the sheriff told the detainee. He then ordered Cook to uncuff Johnson but also to keep a Taser “hot.” As soon as the cuffs came off and the detainee turned his head, Cook “drive stunned” Johnson with the weapon, as Lemon hollered, “There you go, Agent Orange!”

Twice more Lemon ordered the deputy to fire, encouraging him with each jolt, “Pop it to him!” To Johnson, the sheriff repeated: “There you go!” The video clocked the entire assault at two minutes and eight seconds.

Though they attempted to justify the violence against Johnson for “putting the safety of the jail at risk,” Lemon and Cook were investigated by the state Law Enforcement Division, resulting in a state grand jury indictment in December 2021 on charges of felony assault and battery and misconduct in office. Those charges were dropped when the federal indictment was unsealed, according to Robert Kittle, a spokesperson for state Attorney General Alan Wilson (R).

Lemon served 12 years as Sheriff before he was removed from office by Gov. Henry McMaster (R) in December 2021. Cook, who also left law enforcement, pleaded guilty to the federal charges against him on February 29, 2024, under an agreement entered the month before in which he promised to provide prosecutors “substantial assistance” at Lemon’s trial. That has been set for June 2024, and PLN will update developments as they are available. See: United States v. Lemon, USDC (D.S.C.), Case No. 4:24-cr-00068.  


Additional sources: Charleston Post & Courier, WBTW, WMBF, WPDE

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Related legal case

United States v. Lemon