U.S. marshal wanted to keep job

Brown says political winds not blowing his way

When President Barack Obama announced the nomination of the Williamsburg County sheriff as South Carolina's new U.S. marshal, he effectively signaled the end of a 42-year career in law enforcement for Greenville's Johnny Mack Brown.

Brown, 72, a six-term former Greenville County sheriff, has served as the state's U.S. marshal since 2002 and had hoped to be reappointed.

"I'm a realist," he told The Greenville News. "I would love to stay. There are some things to complete. But I realized I am a presidential appointee, and I'm a Bush appointee, and that's probably not good news in Washington."

Brown said he never switched his Democratic Party affiliation since his days as sheriff and had hoped at least to be interviewed for the job.

Brown said U.S. 6th District Rep. Jim Clyburn "requested to make the selection but never had the courtesy to call me or talk to me at all. That's probably a disappointment that he didn't give me an opportunity to at least sit down and tell him what I think we've accomplished in my seven years here as marshal."

Clyburn said Brown was considered.

He said U.S. 5th District Rep. John Spratt "and I were asked to make several recommendations for U.S. marshal, and he was among those we considered," Clyburn said in a statement. "These are presidential appointments, and if my memory serves he received a presidential appointment replacing a highly acclaimed Israel Brooks."

One of the things Brown said he is proudest of during his tenure as marshal is expanding the office's fugitive task force, which is made up of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

He said the office was operating only in Columbia and he expanded it to Greenville, Florence and Charleston.

As marshal, Brown oversees 56 deputies and 14 administrative staffers, as well as others, whose jobs include not only apprehending fugitives but also transporting prisoners, protecting federal judges, prosecutors and court staffers, protecting witnesses, serving court documents, and managing and disposing of properties seized by federal law enforcement agencies.

"We haven't had any judges assaulted or hurt on my watch, thank goodness," Brown said. "That is one thing I worried about, making sure our judges were protected."

Brown said the office needs more manpower. "We need some deputies bad in this district," he said.

Brown began his law enforcement career in 1966 as a state parole and probation agent. Two years later, he joined the Solicitor's Office in Greenville as an investigator and director of the Greenville County pre-trial diversion program.

He was first elected sheriff in 1976.

Brown was selected president of the South Carolina Sheriffs' Association in 1983 and became a board member of the National Sheriffs' Association in 1984.

The Greenville County Sheriff's Office became the first in the state to receive national law enforcement accreditation. The next year, Brown was appointed to a three-year term on the accreditation commission's board.

Brown retired as sheriff in 2001 after serving the longest of any sheriff in the state's history. Though a Democrat, he supported some Republicans in statewide races, including former Gov. David Beasley and former U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond.

He was recommended in 2002 by Thurmond to be marshal, and Bush formally nominated him in November of that year.

Brown said he has enjoyed his long career in law enforcement and would not choose differently had he the chance to begin his career again.

"I didn't make a heck of a lot of money in this business," he said. "But you have a lot of satisfaction being able to make a difference in the community where you live. I think we did that at the Sheriff's Office. We made a difference in this state as a statewide federal agency in making our communities safer by getting sex offenders, violent criminals off our streets and in jail where they belong. If we've done anything, I think we've contributed to the quality of life in South Carolina."

The one regret he has, Brown said, is in not catching a former Charleston police officer who was wanted for the molestation of a 12-year-old and the shooting death of his wife more than four years ago.

"That's the one thing that has happened that I really hate to leave," he said. "We put hours and hours and hours into that case. The earth has just swallowed him up."

Brown said he probably will remain as marshal for three to four months until the confirmation of the incoming marshal is complete. He said he does not plan to retire. He said he has a small consultant firm he may revive. And he has two daughters and five grandchildren with whom he can spend time.

"It's been a good ride," he said. "I hate to see it end, but it's been a good ride."