Embattled Richland County Recreation Commission head retires

State Rep. Mia McLeod explains her call for the resignation of the Rec Commission's director, board members

State Rep. Mia McLeod explains her call for the resignation of the Recreation Commission's director, five of its board members "who support him."
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State Rep. Mia McLeod explains her call for the resignation of the Recreation Commission's director, five of its board members "who support him."

James Brown III, the embattled head of the Richland County Recreation Commission, has retired.

The Richland County Recreation Commission unanimously accepted Brown’s retirement Monday, according to multiple reports. The commission held their public session and accepted Brown’s retirement following after a brief closed door meeting. His retirement became retroactively effective as of Oct. 14.

Brown was an indicted by a county grand jury last week, accused of using his position “to coerce and attempt to coerce female employees into having sexual contact with him.”

He was also charged Friday with intimidating a witness, and was released from jail Saturday on a $20,000 bond.

James Brown III, whose annual salary is $151,800, faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of the broad charge that can cover a wide range of behavior.

The one-paragraph indictment, signed by S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, said Brown misused his position as executive director of the Recreation Commission from 2012 to mid-2015.

The indictment didn’t say exactly how many female employees Brown had allegedly forced himself on.

Wilson’s office will prosecute the case. No trial date has been set.

The commission oversees a Richland County youth and adult sports empire of numerous programs and 40 public facilities, which include swimming pools, summer camps and an 18-hole golf course. It received $13.3 million last year from the county government and also generates revenue streams from its activities.

According to the commission’s website, its core values are “honesty, trust, respect, caring and integrity.”

Brown and the Recreation Commission, along with some other top employees and a pair of board members, are named as defendants in numerous pending civil lawsuits that accuse the director of various inappropriate behaviors, including sexual harassment, bribery, nepotism and creating a hostile work environment.

Although lawsuits, reports of investigations and rumors of misconduct have swirled around the embattled commission for months, Wednesday’s indictment was the first official criminal charge.

On May 27, Brown’s son, James A. Brown, the commission’s director of recreation, was arrested in Richland County on drug trafficking charges. He was suspended without pay the day of his arrest. But the drug charges are not believed related to Wednesday’s indictment. The son’s annual salary was listed at $70,000.

Brown III has been on voluntary paid leave since July, not long after a majority of the 17-member Richland state legislative delegation called on the commission’s board to suspend him.

Brown III has long insisted he is innocent of any wrongdoing. “I welcome the investigation, which I am confident will clear my name personally as the agency’s executive director,” he said in May when The State disclosed the FBI, along with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, SLED and the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s office were investigating him and his agency.

Earlier this year, nine of the 17-member Richland state legislative delegation called for an investigation into the Recreation Commission before later calling for the suspension of Brown and the resignation of five board members who have supported him.

Regarding the intimidation charge, Marcus Whitlark, Brown’s attorney, said Friday it 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.”

Staff writer John Monk contributed to this report