James Brown III, the director of the Richland County Recreation Commission who was indicted by a county grand jury on Wednesday, has been arrested on charges of intimidating a witness in the case, Sheriff Leon Lott announced late Friday afternoon.
The alleged act took place in the 7500 block of Parklane Road, near the recreation commission’s headquarters.
After Lott’s department investigated the charges, a warrant was sworn out and Brown later turned himself in to authorities around 5 p.m., the sheriff announced.
Brown’s indictment Wednesday came after a monthslong investigation by the FBI, the sheriff’s department, SLED and the state Attorney General’s office. The indictment charged him with misconduct in office, alleging he had tried to coerce female employees working for him into having sex.
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The sheriff added that Brown approached a female victim in the case, as well as other employees, “in a threatening manner while knowing he could not speak with them while aware of the criminal investigation against him.”
Marcus Whitlark, Brown’s attorney, said late Friday afternoon the intimidation charge against Brown will not hold up in court.
“He didn’t do anything,” Whitlark said. Brown encountered the witness and told her if she was a witness in the case, he couldn’t talk with her, and then he “turned around and walked away,” the attorney said.
“He absolutely didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t intimidate anybody,” Whitlark said, adding it was his understanding the witness would support Brown’s story.
The charges in the indictment are also without foundation, Whitlark said. “The truth is going to come out in the trial of this case.”
Until his indictment Wednesday, Brown was the highest paid county recreation director in South Carolina. His salary, now suspended, was $151,800.
The misconduct in office indictment alleged Brown had forced himself sexually on women employees in his office from 2012 to mid-2015. It did not say how many women.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office said Friday she did not know when an initial hearing on the misconduct in office indictment would be held.
On Thursday, 10 of the 17 members of the Richland County legislative delegation sent a 31-page letter to Gov. Nikki Haley, asking her to remove five of the seven members on the recreation commission board.
“This is the worst example of government gone wrong that I’ve ever seen,” said Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, one of the lawmakers who signed the letter.
Although Lourie and several other members met with Haley last week, the 10 members in their letter not only request Haley to remove the commissioners, they also list complaints about what they call the board’s rampant abuse of power, malfeasance in office, tolerance of widespread nepotism, a cover-up and wasteful spending. The letter contains extensive documentation and repeatedly refers to questionable actions by Brown.
Not all delegation members agreed that Haley should fire the commissioners.
The recreation commission oversees a county public sports empire of some 40 facilities and numerous youth and adult programs. Its budget is $13 million, and it has some 160 employees.