May 4, 2015

AUDIO: Former Lexington County sheriff sentenced to 1 year in prison

Former sheriff James Metts speaks with reporters one final time after his sentencing Monday

Former sheriff James Metts speaks with reporters one final time after his sentencing Monday

The man who was once South Carolina’s longest-serving sheriff will spending most of his next year in prison.

Former Lexington County Sheriff James Metts was sentenced in federal court Monday to 12 months and one day in prison and fined $10,000. He will also get two years of supervised release.

Metts pleaded guilty last December to a single charge. The 68-year-old was initially indicted on 10 charges, as investigators claimed he had taken bribes from a restaurant owner in exchange for releasing four of the restaurant’s employees who had been detained at the Lexington County Detention Center for being in the country illegally. But prosecutors dropped bribery and other charges in exchange for the ex-sheriff’s guilty plea to a single count of conspiracy to harbor and conceal illegal aliens.

He resigned from office shortly before that plea. He had been suspended by Governor Nikki Haley ever since his indictment in June.

Metts made an emotional plea for leniency shortly before the ruling by U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten, saying he had made an “awful mistake.” “My life ended June the 17th of 2014,” the former sheriff said, noting the day he was indicted and suspended from office. “That day I lost my life. Helping the people of Lexington County was my life for the better part of 42 years.”

AUDIO: Metts comments on judge sentencing him to prison [Read more…]

Trooper cleared in I-20 shooting that followed sobriety test

A South Carolina Highway Patrol trooper has been cleared in the shooting of a man who pulled a gun on him during a traffic stop in Lexington County earlier this year.

WIS-TV reports the 11th Circuit Solicitor’s Office cleared Lance Cpl. Jason Snider earlier this month after a State Law Enforcement Division investigation.

Snider pulled Chance Etheredge over in February after he said Etheredge’s SUV drifted out of its lane on Interstate 20. Snider said Etheredge then failed a sobriety test, and the trooper was preparing to arrest him when Etheredge ran to his car. Snider fired his Taser, but Etheredge was able to get into the car. The trooper said Etheredge eventually stepped outside the vehicle with a gun. Snider fired his own weapon upon seeing the gun.

Etheredge was wounded with non-life threatening injuries and charged with assault and battery and resisting arrest. Dashcam video made public last week appears to back the trooper’s report.

The state Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Highway Patrol, is still conducting an internal investigation.

Former Wellford officer charged, accused of keeping evidence in trunk

A former police officer in the Spartanburg County town of Wellford has been charged with misconduct in office.

The State Law Enforcement Division said in a statement Thursday that 33-year-old Johnathan Gash, who lives in Blacksburg, is charged with mishandling evidence and driving under suspension.

The SLED arrest warrant states that Gash had evidence belonging to the Wellford Police Department in the trunk of his personal vehicle, as well as possessing non-submitted evidence in the trunk of his assigned patrol vehicle. The warrants did not state what the evidence was.

State police began investigating Gash at the Wellford Police Department’s request.

He faces up to 10 years in prison, if convicted.

DMV settles lawsuit with transgender teen over license photo

Chase Culpepper prepares to take questions from reporters shortly after the lawsuit was filed

Chase Culpepper prepares to take questions from reporters shortly after filing the lawsuit in September 2014 (File)

The South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles has settled a lawsuit filed by an Anderson transgender teen who said she was discriminated against and “humiliated” after being told to remove her makeup for a driver’s license photo last year.

17-year-old Chase Culpepper sued last September after being told she could not take the photo while wearing mascara and eye shadow. While Culpepper now identifies herself as transgender and uses female pronouns, at the time of the March 2014 incident Culpepper identified as a non-gender conforming male. The lawsuit claimed a supervisor at the Anderson DMV office told Culpepper she could not take the photo while wearing mascara, eye shadow, and lip gloss. The agency had cited a 2009 rule that did not allow an applicant to alter their appearance for the photo in a way that misrepresented their identity.

As part of the settlement announced on Wednesday DMV will allow applicants to be photographed the way they regularly appear. The agency also agreed to train its employees on how to handle transgender cases.

[Read more…]

Two Faifax men charged with staging Amtrak crash for insurance money

Two Allendale County men face seven federal charges after authorities say they left a stolen car on railroad tracks so they could collect insurance money after an Amtrak train crashed into it.

Federal prosecutors say 33-year-old James Love and 34-year-old Deon Roberts were indicted last week on charges of fraud and causing the September 6, 2013 train derailment near the town of Fairfax. None of the 128 passengers on-board the train were injured.

The indictment states Love and Roberts parked a stolen car on the tracks, then left until the New York-to-Miami train crashed into it around 3:30 a.m. that morning. Investigators then say Love got back into the damaged car and Roberts laid down near it, each claiming to be severely injured. Both men were taken to a nearby hospital at the time.

“The safety of the American railroad system is among the highest priorities of the country’s law enforcement agencies,” Amtrak Inspector General Tom Howard said in a release. “Those who would seek to interfere with the well-being of Amtrak’s passengers and the commerce of the railroads will be held accountable to the greatest extent allowed under the law.”

Varnville’s police chief later confirmed to news media that the car had been reported stolen from his jurisdiction.

Both Love and Roberts were charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, causing a train wreck, and unlawful interference with a train operator. Love, a convicted felon, was also charged with unlawful possession of a shotgun and live shells.