Investigators believe a top Richland County Recreation Commission official wasn’t just selling drugs but was involved in a large drug operation, including trafficking in meth and marijuana.
According to warrants from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, James Anthony Brown, 38, was charged Friday with numerous drug-related offenses. Sheriff Leon Lott said investigators don’t know yet if Brown, who is director of recreation for the commission, sold drugs to children or on recreation commission property, which includes parks and fields for softball, baseball and soccer.
Investigators stopped Brown at Killian Green Drive and Clemson Road while he was driving a 2011 Chevy Avalanche and made an improper turn, according to the incident report. Lott said officers were following up on a tip.
Brown gave consent for officers to search a large cardboard box in the back passenger-side seat, where investigators found “a large bundle of green plant material believed to be marijuana,” according to the warrants. That bundle weighed in at almost 12 pounds.
When asked if he had any weapons in the vehicle, Brown told officers he thought he had a gun in the center console, according to the incident report. Warrants say investigators found a .380-caliber handgun in a bookbag on the back seat.
Lott said investigators are not aware of Brown possessing a concealed weapons permit.
After getting written permission, drug agents then went to search Brown’s home on nearby Harwood Drive – which is within half a mile of Killian Elementary School. They found more material believed to be marijuana, “along with packaging material consistent with illegal narcotics sales,” warrants say.
Agents also found a plastic bag with about 65 pills that field-tested positive for ecstasy, warrants say – and while the search was happening, the U.S. Postal Service delivered a package to the residence containing 755 grams of a crystal substance that tested positive for meth.
Officers also found an AK-47 rifle in Brown's home, Lott said.
Brown’s attorney, Marcus Whitlark, said his client denies any wrongdoing.
“We intend on putting up a vigorous defense in this case,” Whitlark said. “There is an explanation for this.”
Whitlark said Brown believed the box that officers found in his vehicle contained shoes.
“He gave them permission to search that package that was in that vehicle,” Whitlark said. “Anyone who had 12 pounds of pot in there is not going to do that.”
Whitlark also said the package delivered to Brown’s home did not have his client’s name on it, and that Brown was meant to be in Nevada that day – but had to cancel his trip suddenly.
Brown is on an unpaid suspension from the recreation commission, the commission’s Human Resources Division head, David Stringer, said. Chief of Staff Tara Dickerson made the decision, with input from Stringer, “following policy and past practice,” Stringer said.
“We will allow the legal process to now address those issues,” Stringer said.
Brown was released from jail Saturday on a $100,000 bond, according to bond court officials.
Brown was charged with trafficking more than 10 pounds of marijuana, trafficking more than 400 grams of methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession with intent to distribute ecstasy, possession of a weapon during a violent crime, possession with intent to distribute marijuana near a school, possession with intent to distribute ecstasy near a school and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine near a school.