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Sour grapes and the law

Posted: November 3, 2011 11:32 a.m.
Updated: November 4, 2011 5:00 a.m.

After learning of the four civil lawsuits filed against our newly elected Sheriff Jim Matthews I decided to research some of the facts. I discovered that Sheriff Matthews has a very distinguished career in law enforcement serving this state and this country. He was a peace officer with the city of Columbia, Lexington County and Richland County, and was one of the first three South Carolina law officers to be selected to serve with the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration. He was an instructor for many years at the FBI academy on several subjects; he taught classes on surveillance, undercover surveillance, ethics, raid planning, arms, and professionalism among a few. Upon initially taking office I think it is fair to say Sheriff Matthews had the training and experience that no other incoming sheriff has ever had in Kershaw County history.

Sheriff Matthews has set a new, and in my opinion, higher set of standards for accountability for the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office that has been long overdue both professionally and physically. I for one have noticed the difference and many of my fellow Kershaw County citizens have as well. In church, in restaurants, at school activities such as board meetings or sporting events, even standing in the movie ticket lines, I’ve heard many positive comments about the improved professionalism and attitude of our county sheriff’s office. Living in a community with many law enforcement neighbors, I’ve heard from those peace officers the same basic critique of Sheriff Matthews. “By the book, correct, firm, fair.” He enforces the law the correct way and expects his staff and fellow law enforcement colleagues to do the same.

Three of the four lawsuits derive from the Kershaw County Council meeting on Jan. 4, 2011. At this meeting Sheriff Matthews gave an honest and professional analysis of many aspects of the state of the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office, from his point of view. These three lawsuits involve questions about proper handling of funds set up for victims, referred to as the “Victims Funds.” In his statement, Sheriff Matthews gave an open, honest, blunt and direct assessment to the county council. Open, honest, direct-to- the-point statements are something I think all government officials should appreciate and seek both locally and nationally. If no malice was intended, no one should fear any retribution for giving an honest opinion to a government council or committee when asked to do so. It is their duty to do so.

The fourth lawsuit was filed by a former Kershaw County deputy sheriff. This lawsuit claims that Sheriff Matthews made statements that this former county deputy sheriff had a drug problem and allegedly planted drugs at a crime scene. Planting evidence at a crime scene is very concerning. As I understand it, Sheriff Matthews was informed of this by two S.C. state law enforcement officers. The planting of evidence is a crime. If this is true, and I believe that Sheriff Matthews believes it is true, why hasn’t a legal department such as SLED or the FBI investigated these accusations fully? Is there a person and or persons who have been wrongly arrested? Have they been convicted? Are they presently incarcerated because of falsely planted evidence?

I would also like to know what the results were of the inventory of the evidence room that Sheriff Matthews had SLED do before he physically took office. Was that report presented to the county council and was it ever made public?

I do think that the three plaintiffs in the three lawsuits involving the missing “Victims Funds” are good, honest citizens and probably did the best they could with the resources they had available to them at the time. Why not go out with your head held high and with the character and class you demonstrated while serving this county so well while you were in office? Why burden the Kershaw County citizens with lawsuits that really have little or no substance for $6 million in damages? Sounds like sour grapes to me.

As to the fourth suit of $2 million, on the accusation of evidence planting, the public has a need to know. It’s the law.

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