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Suspect killed during traffic stop

Narcotics agent injured after being dragged, run over

Posted: March 1, 2012 5:22 p.m.
Updated: March 2, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Melvin Lawhorn, 26, is dead, shot once Tuesday night by a Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) deputy.

The deputy -- actually an undercover KCSO narcotics agent -- ended up in the hospital, injured by being dragged and run over by the pickup truck in which Lawhorn was a passenger.

“He suffered no broken bones, but he did have torn ligaments,” Sheriff Jim Matthews said of the deputy Wednesday morning. “He had tire tread marks on his leg from his boot to his thigh. He’s on serious pain medication, but he was released from the hospital last night and is back home now.”

The sequence of events took place around 8:20 p.m. Tuesday on Old Stagecoach Road near Mt. Zion Road about 8-1/2 miles east of Camden. Matthews said several narcotics agents, including the injured deputy, had been conducting surveillance of Lawhorn almost all day Tuesday after learning he had gone to a “drug source” and would be returning with a quantity of drugs.

Matthews said two narcotics agents spotted the older model, maroon Ford Ranger truck with paper tags Lawhorn was riding in and conducted a traffic stop.

“He’s been one of our bigger targets,” Matthews said.

Matthews said one of the narcotics agents approached the passenger side of the Ranger while another agent approached the driver. He said that almost immediately after the agent on the passenger side made contact with Lawhorn, he lunged toward the driver and managed to step on the truck’s gas pedal. At the same time, the agent reached into the vehicle to stop Lawhorn, but was dragged about 120 feet.

While being dragged, the agent managed to unholster his firearm and fire one shot. After speaking with Kershaw County Coroner Johnny Fellers on Thursday, Matthews said the gunshot entered under Lawhorn’s arm near his back and traveled into his chest.

“After firing the shot, (the agent) fell away from the truck and got run over,” Matthews said.

Fellers said Lawhorn died of a laceration of the heart due to a gunshot wound to the chest.

Matthews said another narcotics agent pursued the Ranger for a short distance and then forced it off the road. Agents took the driver, Darryl Lorenzo Herbert, 52, into custody. He said Lawhorn was found dead in the truck, his foot still on the accelerator.

The official KCSO report of Tuesday’s incident listed Lawhorn’s address as being on James West Road in Cassatt. He has also been known to live in the Seegars Mill Road area near I-20 and in Lee County. Herbert lives on U.S. 1 North in Cassatt.

Matthews said some drugs were found on Lawhorn’s body.

“I saw a SLED agent hold up what I think was 1 ounce of cocaine in a baggie. I was told it was taken out of Lawhorn’s pocket,” Matthew said.

Matthews said investigators are still working on the supply end of the Lawhorn case with other agencies. He said investigators found no weapons in the truck.

During Wednesday morning’s interview in Matthews’ office, some 30 people believed to be Lawhorn’s family and friends showed up next door at Fellers’ office. Fellers said the same group of people showed up at KershawHealth Tuesday night following the shooting. He said he called deputies and Camden Police Department officers to the hospital to help defuse a situation that developed.

Fellers said members of the group used “raw” language, made racial and retaliatory remarks and threatened him and officers. Matthews said Lawhorn was African-American as is the agent who shot him.

“It was just a very volatile situation,” Fellers said, using the same word to describe the scene Wednesday morning at his office. “It was very uncomfortable and it wasn’t fair to the people at the hospital. It was just uncalled for. The language that was used was just unbelievable. There was no respect.”

After being released from jail on bond, Herbert reported that he returned to his Cassatt home to find bullet holes. A deputy reporting on the incident said he found that unknown suspects fired seven rounds through a back window, one of which ended up going through the front door.

“We have a pool of suspects,” Matthew said.

The sheriff supported both narcotics agents involved in Tuesday’s action.

“I have personally been out with them before and consider them to be some of the best I have ever worked with,” Matthews said. “They are professional, appropriately aggressive … they know and follow the law and I do not question their integrity.”

Thursday, Matthews said several people have asked him if there is “dash-cam” video of Tuesday night’s incident to assist with the investigation. The answer is “no.”

“We have some, including rejects from the Highway Patrol; the traffic units have new ones,” Matthews said.

Capt. Ed Corey said out of a fleet of 80 vehicles, the KCSO has only 15 dashboard-mounted video cameras. Of those, only 11 work. In one case, Matthews said, his narcotics lieutenant has taped a personally-owned camera to his dashboard.

Corey said dash-cams can cost as little as $1,500, but ones such as those mounted in the traffic enforcement unit vehicles cost $5,000 each. He said those are completely digital.

Matthews said he is sending a memorandum to Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter outlining the problem and asking for assistance.

Tuesday was not the first time deputies have dealt with Lawhorn. Matthews said one of his current deputies was working for Lee County several years ago when he received a call regarding a home invasion or shooting incident in an area called “Little Egypt” where Kershaw, Lee and Sumter counties come together.

Online court records indicate the incident might have taken place in March 2006.

“As my guy comes up, he sees a trooper has a victim on the side of the road and then a SUV screams out of the yard. He follows him into Kershaw County and hears ‘bam, bam’ and thinks someone’s shooting at him from a house he’s passing,” Matthews said. “Then he sees a muzzle flash from the SUV and backs off.”

Matthews said the deputy and other officers found the SUV on Brewer Springs Road with two women inside -- and nine spent rounds from an AK-47. Matthews said the women’s sworn statements identified Lawhorn as one of two male suspects who had fled the vehicle.

“Lawhorn was arrested, but the case was nolle prossed (dismissed) and is under seal,” Matthews said, saying he hopes to learn why from the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office.

Online court records indicate Lawhorn was charged with assault with intent to kill in March 2006 when he was also charged with possession of a stolen vehicle. However, both cases are listed as having been “Dismissed Not Indicted” on two consecutive days in October 2008.

A review of other Kershaw County 5th Circuit Court records show Lawhorn’s charges have been dismissed in most cases. Deputies arrested Lawhorn in December 2009 and originally charged him with a third or subsequent charge of manufacturing or distributing cocaine. He pleaded guilty in April 2011, however, to a lesser charge of a first offense of possessing 1 ounce or less of cocaine. A judge sentenced him to 30 days in jail, credited with 30 days time served and suspended his driver’s license.

In return for the guilty plea, it appears prosecutors dropped other charges filed against Lawhorn in 2008, 2009 and 2010 for possessing materials that could have been used to defeat a drug or alcohol test, possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and in proximity to a school, and a third or subsequent offense of cocaine possession.

Records indicate Lawhorn pleaded guilty in December 2004 to a first offense of manufacturing, distributing or possession cocaine, a charge stemming from a May 2005 arrest. A judge sentenced him to six years in prison, but suspended the sentence upon two years’ probation. Other dismissed or “not indicted” charges against Lawhorn include possession of 1 ounce or less of cocaine or methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine within proximity of a school and assault of a high and aggravated nature.

S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services listed Lawhorn as under standard supervision under a youthful offender conditional release. That supervision was to end this May, but it is unclear for what crime he was on probation.

According to online court records the KCSO has filed five charges against Herbert: failing to stop for blue lights, driving too fast for conditions, driving under the influence (less than .10 percent), driving on the wrong side of the road, and having the wrong license plate on the Ranger.

Court records indicate Herbert has been found guilty in absentia in magistrate court for speeding and driving too fast for conditions. A case is still pending against Herbert for possession of 1 gram or less of meth or cocaine. Deputies arrested him Nov. 30 and he had been out on $3,000 bond.

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