The 5th Circuit solicitor has taken the highly unusual step of criticizing a candidate for Richland County sheriff, calling him “aggressive,” “lazy” and “the worst kind of law enforcement officer.”
Solicitor Dan Johnson’s comments on Tuesday came in reaction to hearing that James Flowers, who is running for Richland County sheriff against incumbent Leon Lott, had accused Johnson of acting inappropriately in a case. Johnson says Flowers is just wrong.
Flowers last week told The State newspaper a Richland County deputy should have been charged with manslaughter in a 2007 shooting he investigated when he was an agent with the State Law Enforcement Division. Instead, no charges were filed. Johnson is to blame, Flowers said.
“It was his first act as solicitor,” Flowers said. He said Johnson should have handed off the case to someone else because Lott was Johnson’s boss before Johnson was elected solicitor.
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It was his first act as solicitor.”
Richland sheriff’s candidate James Flowers
But documents show Johnson was not the solicitor when the case was cleared, that he was sworn in the next day. Johnson said the mistake shows Flowers is “aggressive” and “lazy” and “the worst kind of law enforcement officer.”
The accusations come as Flowers challenges Lott for sheriff in the June 14 Democratic primary. Lott is seeking a sixth term in office. Johnson was Lott’s chief deputy from 2008 to 2011. Flowers left his job at SLED to run for sheriff.
Solicitors and sheriffs don’t often publicly disagree with – or criticize – one another, as they have to work together to prosecute criminal cases.
The shooting happened before the sheriff’s department moved in 2014 to doing its own officer-involved shooting investigations – the state’s only law enforcement agency that does.
All accounts of the shooting agree on some basic facts. Deputy Kellye Hendrick shot Richard Lewis Catoe Jr. as he was running from a Columbia SWAT team, around a house, toward Richland deputies with a knife in hand.
Flowers said Thursday the facts presented in the SLED investigation would have supported a criminal charge of manslaughter.
But when SLED investigates an officer-involved shooting, the agency has no power to make a charge – only to gather the facts of the case for the solicitor’s office.
If the solicitor clears an officer, SLED does not overrule or appeal that decision.
If the solicitor clears an officer, SLED does not overrule or appeal that decision, SLED spokesman Thom Berry said.
The SLED investigative report – which is what goes to the solicitor’s office – for the 2007 shooting details a standoff between Catoe and the Columbia Police Department at a burning house on Samson Circle. Richland deputies responded as backup.
When ordered by a Columbia officer to drop his knife, Catoe held the knife to his throat and threatened to kill himself, the report says.
After negotiations failed, the police department’s SWAT team used a flash bang and beanbag rounds on Catoe. A Columbia police captain told all officers to holster their weapons, as this was meant to be a less-than-lethal assault, according to the report.
Officers hit Catoe with a SWAT shield after using the flash bang, according to the report. He escaped and ran around the house toward Hendrick.
Hendrick submitted a typed statement to Flowers, saying that as Catoe ran toward her, he had his knife raised. She was with another deputy, Todd White, at the time.
“She and White were to tase (sic) Catoe if they had the opportunity,” the report says. “After approximately 20 minutes, White told her to transition to her firearm to cover him since he would be using a taser.”
A letter from the solicitor’s office to Flowers shows that Assistant Solicitor Joanna McDuffie, working for then-Solicitor Barney Giese, cleared Hendrick.
A letter from the solicitor’s office to Flowers shows that Assistant Solicitor Joanna McDuffie, working for then-Solicitor Barney Giese, cleared Hendrick on Jan. 11, 2011.
Flowers said that although Johnson wasn’t sworn in until the next day, he already had control of the solicitor’s office.
“They didn’t wait until the day before he swore in to close that case for no reason,” Flowers said. “He was already the solicitor. He just was sworn in the day after. He had been elected, and he was, basically, the solicitor – just because he was sworn in the day after doesn’t mean anything.”
Flowers said he doesn’t have evidence of Johnson controlling the case – just his own observation.
After Hendrick was cleared of criminal wrongdoing, Catoe’s wife filed a civil suit against the sheriff and the city of Columbia. A judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2014.
Richland Deputy Kellye Hendrick acted “to provide police protection.”
Judge who dismissed a civil suit in the case
In the dismissal, the judge wrote that Hendrick acted “to provide police protection.”
The dismissal says Hendrick knew Catoe had threatened to try to kill any officer who tried to apprehend him and that he made the threat despite having been shot by a Columbia officer before the deputy arrived.
Court documents describe the shooting:
“Hendrick issued loud, clear, and repeated warnings to Catoe that he would be shot if he advanced toward her. Hendrick observed Catoe rapidly closing in on her without hesitation. He was armed with a straight bladed, hunting-type knife raised up to strike her. Despite the warnings, Catoe advanced and was shot and killed.”
Lott, when asked to comment, said if Flowers believed the shooting was a bad one, he should have been more vocal when no charges were filed.
“If he was truly a real professional cop, he would have been screaming and hollering about the injustice that had been served,” Lott said. “And now he wants to bring it up because it’s an election year?”
Johnson said he didn’t want to get involved in the sheriff’s race, but had to respond to Flowers’ accusations.
“I’ve known Mr. Flowers for a long time,” Johnson said. “In my opinion, he is the worst kind of law enforcement officer.”
The date he became solicitor, Johnson said, is easy to find in reporting from that election.
“For him to get the details wrong on a shooting that he investigated shows how reckless and lazy he is,” Johnson said.
I just find it disappointing that a sitting solicitor would make those kind of statements.”
In response, Flowers said, “I just find it disappointing that a sitting solicitor would make those kind of statements.”
If Flowers is elected sheriff, Johnson said he’s concerned the candidate would be unfair to people who, unlike him, might not have the power to fight back.
He is lazy, and I’ll fight him.”
5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson
“He is lazy, and I’ll fight him,” Johnson said.