COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A sheriff charged with ordering the stun gun shocking of an inmate at his county’s jail was trying to help his officers deal with a combative, out-of-control man who had just beat his father with a baseball bat, the sheriff’s lawyer said at his bond hearing Tuesday.
But a lawyer for the inmate’s family said he was mentally ill and wasn’t given a chance to comply.
A judge set bond for suspended Marlboro County Sheriff Charles Lemon at $25,000 on assault and battery and misconduct in office charges. The deputy who shocked the inmate with the Taser was given the same bond.
Prosecutors showed the judge police body camera video of the incident inside the Marlboro County jail in May 2020 after the man was arrested. Police had said his mother told them he attacked his preacher father with a baseball bat and threw his Bible in the trash.
Lemon asks the deputy holding the Taser “is it hot?” on the body camera footage that a Marlboro County investigator gave to Charlotte, North Carolina, FOX affiliate WJZY-TV and to state investigators
“Ain’t nobody playing with you. It’s Sunday morning, man, I’ve got to go to church — you acting the fool. I know your whole family,” Lemon told the inmate, still handcuffed. “If he turns around, pop it to him. Give him what he asked for.”
A jailer unlocked the handcuffs. The inmate lunged at Lemon and the deputy shocked him. After about 15 seconds of yelling, where the inmate is barely seen on the body camera footage, the deputy shocks him again. This time he uses the prongs of the Taser, which can provide a more debilitating shock.
“Pop it to him,” Lemon was heard repeating as the clicks of the Taser are heard, according to the body camera footage, which was also released publicly by a lawyer for the inmate’s family last week.
The inmate’s shorts ended up around his ankles and he is shocked at least one more time as he struggled to get into a holding cell.
“This is arguably one of the most disgusting acts we’ve seen on video, your honor, perpetrated by law enforcement of an individual who is still alive,” said Bakari Sellers, a lawyer for the inmate’s family.
Lemon’s lawyer said the sheriff was faced with an inmate who was “out of control, disorderly, combative, not following instructions.” In a jail setting, attorney Morgan Martin said, someone has to be in control.
“It’s clear that we believe Sheriff Lemon and the other deputy involved were doing the best they could to get hum into the cell without any violence, without anybody getting hurt,” Martin said at the bond hearing, held in Florence County and livestreamed by news outlets.
Sellers said the inmate was mentally ill and has been receiving treatment. His family supports him and was stunned to see the way he was treated by the sheriff, who is a family friend, Sellers said.
The original news release on the man’s arrest said he assaulted the sheriff, but the body camera footage is unclear whether he ever touched Lemon. The statement also said the inmate was not injured and didn’t say if his father was hospitalized.
The charges of assaulting a police officer and assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature against the man are still pending, according to state court records.
Lemon and the deputy were indicted last week on charges of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature and misconduct in office. If convicted of the felony assault charge, they could each spend up to 20 years in prison.
The deputy no longer works in law enforcement. Lemon, 57, is a lifelong law officer and has been suspended while he awaits trial.
Lemon joins a long line of South Carolina sheriffs charged with misconduct. Since 2010, 13 sheriffs in the state’s 46 counties have been convicted of crimes ranging from stealing money through expense reports to running a drug ring to getting inmates to do personal work or creating false police reports to get people out of credit card debt.
Along with $25,000 bond, the judge ordered Lemon to not contact anyone in the Marlboro County Sheriff’s Office where he was chief deputy for 12 years and was serving his second four-year term as sheriff.
Sellers said the inmate’s family wants people to remember how Lemon treated someone in his care and custody.
“You can’t be sheriff and jury and executioner at the same time,” Sellers said. “And Mr. Lemon thought he was.”
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