The prosecution has continued to call witness after witness every day this week in the trial of former Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker that began April 7 at the Chesterfield County Courthouse.
The list of more than 100 potential witnesses includes a variety of people with occupations ranging from tow truck driver, to sheriff’s deputies, a handwriting analyst and even those who provide training for deputies throughout the state.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigation that led to the indictment of Sanford Marion “Sam” Parker in 2013, after serving 11 years as sheriff, has generated considerable media coverage.
The case against Parker involves the possible abuse of power in office, accusations of embezzlement and misconduct, trustee inmates having parties with alcohol and overnight conjugal visits at the sheriff’s compound, politics and more. As he stands trial, Parker is one of six people on the ballot for sheriff in the upcoming June 10 primary election.
The prosecution opened last week with claims, adapted from Parker’s original campaign for office, that his position as sheriff became more about the power of the office than the people he worked with and was sworn to protect.
Tuesday afternoon much of the testimony from Jennifer Vaughn, Parker’s administrative secretary, focused on Parker’s remarks recorded in the minutes of Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office departmental meetings. Pulling from a stack of documents, the prosecution asked Vaughn to read dozens of statements directed at Parker’s employees.
From the minutes of July 7, 2008, it is recorded Parker said, “If I have to dismiss the entire shift today, I will. I can do your job and will.”
The minutes also reflect this comment from Parker. “Don’t go over my head. You don’t have the power.” And on Sept. 8, 2009, “If I find out someone has called Blake (Taylor), I will indict you.”
Blake Taylor is the director of the Compliance, Standards and Inspections department of the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
Vaughn was questioned about a number of checks from the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company in Bennettsville that were mailed to 2030 Four Mile Loop in Cheraw, Parker’s former address.
“I was told not to question his authority. When he asked something, just do it,” Vaughn testified.
Perhaps the most compelling testimony so far was that of Mike Lee, one of the trustee inmates involved in Parker’s charges of furnishing contraband to inmates and misconduct in office. One of the first things Lee told the jury about himself was that he held a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Carolina. Then, for approximately four hours, Lee told the jury how he lived quite comfortably at the Chesterfield County Armory in Chesterfield.
Lee said he enjoyed birthday parties at the armory; complete with alcohol, steak, china, linen table cloths and his girlfriend. There were other witnesses to testify this week that Lee was visited often by his girlfriend, Angela Hurst, and occasionally by his wife and child.
Lee testified to participating in the Chesterfield Trunk or Treat, dressed in an SRT uniform, going to parties at Parker’s home in the summer, playing the role of Santa for employee Christmas parties and their children. He also participated in Chesterfield Christmas parade.
Lee was convicted of secondnd degree arson in November 2002 and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment at Kirkland Correctional Facility. He was transferred to the Chesterfield County Detention Center in March of 2007 where he was designated a trustee inmate.
Several testimonies have indicated Lee’s move, along with former inmate William Skipper, from the Chesterfield Detention Center to the armory took place after the two inmates had completed renovations providing a kitchen and a room for each of them to sleep.
Lee testified that Parker’s reasoning for having them stay overnight at the armory was to shorten deputy response time when called out in the middle of the night. Lee said he and Skipper would be there to get the helicopter out of the hangar, or prepare other emergency vehicles for departure.
Other testimony this week indicated Lee was allowed to walk or drive across town, attend church and even pick up packages from the post office. One employee of the Chesterfield Post Office testified she had waited on Lee for years and never knew he was an inmate until she was contacted by SLED for the investigation.
According to Lee, most of his time in Chesterfield County was “fun.” It wasn’t until Lee lost his temper with former Chesterfield County Deputy Mike Hutson, that the fun began to fade. During that incident, Lee threw a bottle of Clorox through the air in that hit the clothing and skin of Jennifer Vaughn.
Both Vaughn and Hutson testified that their requests to Parker to send Lee back to the detention center at that time were ignored.
Lee told the jury the only reason Parker sent him back was because Parker thought he “was screwing his wife.” Lee is currently housed at the Manning Correction Facility and is scheduled to be released Sept. 8, 2014.
When the defense got a chance to question Lee, he warned of the penalties of perjury.
“You do realize, Mr. Lee,” Parker’s lawyer Johnny Gasser said, “attorneys have the authority to ascertain records from the University of South Carolina?”
“There is no record of a Michael George Lee, born July 30, 1968, ever attending a single class at the University of South Carolina,” said Gasser. “Is that correct, Mr. Lee?”
“Yes, sir,” said Lee, admitting he had told the jury earlier that day something that was not true.
The prosecution was expected to rest its case late Wednesday.
— Karen Kissiah can be reached at 843-537-5261.