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Johnson takes oath as solicitor

Pledges to use 'compass that is true'

Posted: January 14, 2011 4:35 p.m.
Updated: January 17, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Already sworn in Wednesday afternoon as the 5th Circuit’s new solicitor, Dan Johnson decided to hold a second ceremony early Thursday evening at the Kershaw County Courthouse. The 5th Circuit is made up of Kershaw and Richland counties and the fact that they are very different counties didn’t escape Johnson in either his prepared remarks or an exclusive interview after the ceremony.

Thursday evening’s event was overseen by at-large Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman of Kingstree who was making his first appearance in a Kershaw County courtroom. Newman also presided over Johnson’s official swearing-in ceremony in Columbia.

“As I emphasized to (Johnson) yesterday, ‘to those whom much has been given, much is expected,’” said Newman.

Newman’s remarks and the oath were preceded by special recognitions noted by Johnson’s new director of communications, Nicole Holland; an invocation by Camden attorney Dennis N. Cannon Jr.; the pledge of allegiance led by Anthony Sheheen, son of State Sen. Vincent Sheheen; and the National Anthem sung by George Godfrey of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD). Johnson once worked as Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott’s chief deputy and legal adviser.

Johnson thanked those in attendance for their support, and his parents, Albert and Deborah Johnson, who held the Bible on which he swore his oath.

“I want to thank my mother and father for setting high standards of what is acceptable and what is not, and especially my mother for keeping that strap close by,” said Johnson.

He was going to make a different speech that would be more appropriate to Kershaw County than the one he gave in Richland County, he told the audience of about 75, mostly made up of local law enforcement, government and civic leaders.

“The people of this county elected me and I’m humbled by that,” Johnson said. “I have had the overwhelming support of the people of this county. This office, when we think of it, is not a symbol of the authority of government, but a symbol of the public’s trust.”

Johnson did repeat a story he had told Wednesday: that a woman supporting his campaign had given him a check for $25 but asked him not to cash it for a few days in order for it to clear.

“It dawned on me that those who didn’t have much to give gave everything to help me. I couldn’t cash it … I won’t … and I still have it in my pocket. It’s a symbol of the faith and confidence she had in me. I’m holding it in trust and hope to do her justice,” said Johnson.

He said he was reminded of a quote by Martin Luther King Jr.: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“There will be times of challenge and controversy before us,” Johnson said. “I pledge to use a compass that is true … to look beyond today to do what’s right for tomorrow.”

Johnson acknowledged that election for solicitor was “tough,” especially in Kershaw County.

“But we’re all in the same boat; we’re part of the same community. Look to the left and look to the right -- go ahead, look -- these are the people of this community. We rely on you for support and encouragement. I’m not going to expect that we’ll always agree, but I expect you to know that I will always try to do what’s right,” he said.

“I believe what you’ll see from our office are the things we should be teaching our kids. I intend to make sure this is a safe place for your children.”

Following Johnson’s remarks, his new chief investigator, Bob White, talked about how he had come to know the new solicitor through their work together at the RCSD.

“In a very short time … he will show you what he’s going to do,” said White.

Years ago, White worked with Camden Police Chief Joe Floyd. Floyd was White’s training officer.

“I told Chief Floyd about how Dan would work the streets (as RCSD chief) because he wanted to know what that’s like,” White said. “What makes Dan special is that he’s instilled with a passion … he’s a quality guy, and I quickly became a student of his. If Dan says he’s your solicitor, he’s your solicitor. If you don’t tell him what’s wrong, it’s your fault. Give him what he needs … he is what he says he is.”

In an interview following the ceremony, Johnson confirmed that Deputy Solicitor John Meadors -- who he defeated in June (no Republicans ran) for the top office -- will be staying on through an unspecified transitional period. He also said that he and Meadors will be working together on a case very important to Kershaw County.

“John and I have talked about the McDonald’s (gang-related) shooting. He has been the point person on that case and we are going to handle it together,” said Johnson.

There are four defendants still awaiting trial, including Byron Michael Wood, who allegedly ordered Markelle Jamar Reid to “ride someone” in order to get back into Camden’s Nine Trey Bloods gang. That order resulted in the death of Camden High School student Michael Smith the night of Dec. 7, 2007.

Reid has been held at the Kershaw County Detention Center since the murder three years ago. In July 2009, he agreed to plead guilty in exchange for his testimony against any of his 10 co-defendants. Six of those defendants plead guilty themselves and were sentenced but placed on probation. Wood, however, was released on bond, as were co-defendants Deffigeo Whitaker, Daryus Smith and Dexter Caldwell.

When might the case come back to court?

“Pretty doggone soon,” said Johnson.

The new solicitor said running the Kershaw County branch of the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office will take “a whole different approach” than in Richland County.

“This is a close-knit community that is very concerned about cooperation with law enforcement,” said Johnson. “People here want a very personal style of law enforcement. They expect us to communicate with the public and with each other. To be honest with you, it’s refreshing.”

Johnson said he had met with Sheriff Jim Matthews earlier Thursday and that the two of them plan to do several things to cement that cooperative relationship.

“One thing is we’re going to ride the county and talk about it from both of our perspectives,” he said.

Johnson has also hired Brett Perry to be his lead assistant solicitor in Kershaw County. He said Perry ran his own law firm for eight years before becoming a Myrtle Beach police officer.

“He just finished three years in Afghanistan training law enforcement officers in drug interdiction and counter terrorism and he’s closing on his house in Camden tomorrow,” Johnson said.

Johnson said it was premature for him to discuss what his office’s focus in Kershaw County would be. He said he was in the process of restructuring the Richland County office, but would be taking a different tack with Kershaw County because it is a smaller office.

“As Sheriff Matthews restructures here, that will dictate some of what we do,” Johnson said. “If he gets a traffic unit, it could bring in more drug cases (and) could indirectly add to some of the burden or capacity of this office. I have every confidence in the world in him.”

Johnson said he has also had good conversations with Floyd.

“Chief Floyd has already contributed to building our office -- he has a healthy respect for the job we do,” said Johnson.

One thing that could slow Johnson down in Kershaw County is funding, part of which comes from the state, part from the county.

“The number of prosecutors is (partially) based on the county budget,” he said. “We have not asked for money yet -- we still need to assess things.

“The people of the county have told us, however, that we need to ask.”

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