I-TEAM: System allows deputies with questionable past to keep their badge
Monday, Jan. 27, 2020
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7
SALUDA COUNTY, SC (WRDW/WAGT) -- The deputy who arrested a Georgia Southern quarterback last summer is no longer with Saluda County Sheriff's Office.
Deputy Charles Browder gave his resignation a week from today after our I-Team sent repeated requests for information to the sheriff office.
Browder arrested Shai Werts on drug charges. Werts insisted the substance on his vehicle was bird poop.
Browder performed a field test on the substance, and told Werts it tested positive.
“I swear to God, that’s bird doo-doo,” Werts said.
“I swear to God, it’s not,” Browder responded. “I just tested it, and it turned pink.”
The Werts case ended with the solicitor dropping the charges after further testing from the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division showed it was not cocaine.
“As far as the field test, I can't tell you what happened there, but he done exactly what I would have done on the shoulder of the road as far as handling the case itself,” Saluda County Chief Deputy Toby Horne said.
Horne agreed to talk with us after we showed up at the sheriff’s office. We had sent repeated requests for Browder’s personnel file. The sheriff did not respond until an attorney got involved. Horne cleared Browder of any wrongdoing.
“A very strong officer,” Horne said, defending Browder. “A very strong officer. Very focused. Very sharp. Well-rounded, as far as I am concerned."
But we looked through Browder’s past as a law enforcement agent. In the past several years, he was working at the Lexington County Sheriff's Department when he responded to a suicidal woman involved in an alleged domestic situation.
The exchange between Browder and one of the people on scene was recorded via a cell phone.
"Move,” Browder said to the woman. “[Expletive] move."
“Where am I going to go?" the woman asked.
“I don't know,” Browder responded. “You want a divorce so [expletive] bad, why don’t you make something happen?”
"Oh, my God," the woman said.
"That's why I have a [expletive] job because of people like you,” Browder said. “[Expletive] stupid. This is my third domestic for the day and I have only been on 2.5 hours."
Lexington County Sheriff's Department found Browder guilty of conduct unbecoming. But he resigned in lieu of termination which allowed him to keep his certification and get a job with the Saluda County Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff Horne says he was not aware of Browder’s history in the Midlands. He also did not know he was fired.
Browder's admits to losing his previous job on his application for Saluda County. What he doesn't mention is he left during the middle of another investigation. His personnel file from Lexington County gives more detail.
According to page three of Browder’s file, “a woman came forward after finding inappropriate messages between a child and Browder. The deputy met the minor while responding to a call.”
Browder admitted to sending a shirtless picture of himself to the child and asking the minor to secretly meet him.
While Lexington County was investigating that, documents say investigators found evidence Browder was having a sexual relationship with a woman while on duty.
Investigators found deleted texts from Browder to the woman read: "You're so sexy and you just have no idea how bad I want you." Text exchanges show the two would meet up during his shift. In a statement to internal affairs in Lexington County, Browder admits to sex acts while on duty – roadside.
How would Browder still be certified in South Carolina despite the alleged misconduct?
"Well it is on individual basis,” Jackie Swindler with the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy said. “It would have to clearly violate what is in the statute. Certain things would not be favorable or may not be something people would like, but would not be misconduct if it doesn't meet the statute."
Swindler and the Criminal Justice Academy certifies law enforcement agents in South Carolina. Officers only lose certifications if found guilty of a crime or misconduct.
Lexington County found Browder in violation of conduct unbecoming. That’s a different and lesser offense.
So what is misconduct?
“It's a lot of things,” Swindler said. “It's abuse of the public abuse of authority, substance abuse, unsafe practices with firearms or vehicles, but the number one we see is lying -- lying to your supervisor, lying to your agency, lying in court, lying in documents; lying is probable the most common misconduct."
The 11th Judicial Circuit Solicitor sent a letter to the Saluda County Sheriff about Browder in December.
"These incidents involved sustained findings conducted by [Lexington County] internal affairs,” the letter said.
The incidents involve the suicide call, the provocative photo to minor, and sexual relationship with a woman while on duty. The solicitor concludes the letter, stating. “Such behavior reflects directly upon Browder's ethics, integrity, and honesty. My office cannot and will not prosecute any case that may require Deputy Browder testimony.”
But even after learning about the findings of Lexington County’s investigation, Saluda County did not fire Browder.
“From what I have seen from his work ethic here, it has been nothing but professional,” Sheriff Horne said.
Instead, Browder resigned -- once again keeping his certification which allowed him to move on to yet another law enforcement agency.
Horne, meanwhile, does not think Browder is a threat to the public.
“Me personally? Personally, I do not,” Horne said.
Horne confirmed Browder's resignation last Monday. He would not tell us why he left. But again, his resignation comes nearly a month after the solicitor told the sheriff that he could not prosecute any of Browder's cases because of his compromised integrity. We sent an open records request for Browder's resignation letter. We are waiting on the sheriff's office to fulfill our request.