Former Saluda Co. deputy involved in Shai Werts’ case had troubled past

Former Saluda Co. deputy involved in Shai Werts’ case had troubled past

SALUDA COUNTY, S.C. (WTOC) - The details are disturbing. A deputy enticing an underage girl to sneak out of her house.

Even more troubling, he met the girl after her parents reported her as a runaway.

This is the same South Carolina deputy whose conduct during a traffic stop in Saluda County received national attention in August 2019.

"You're about to go to jail. OK?"

You’ll remember Deputy Charles Allen Browder III. He’s the one seen in video arresting Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Werts for what he thought was cocaine on the hood of his car. Turns out the substance was not cocaine, and the charges were later dropped.

But there's been an even bigger fallout since we began this months-long investigation. Saluda County's top prosecutor, Solicitor Rick Hubbard, said he will no longer prosecute cases that require the deputy's testimony. That decision happened after we made him aware of the deputy's past behavior.

Browder: "Because I asked you one (bleep) time to come down here and you didn't."

Woman: “OK.”

Browder: “That’s your (bleep) problem. That’s why I’m out here right now because y 'all can’t get your (bleep) together.”

In this moment, he works for the Lexington County Sheriff's Office in South Carolina. He's responded to a call about a domestic dispute.

The woman you heard talking recorded the video of Deputy Browder's behavior.

By the time Deputy Browder's employer saw it, the video had more than 13,000 views on social media.

His behavior in the video is why Lexington County terminated his employment in December of 2017. "Conduct unbecoming of an officer" is the official term.

But when you look at his file with the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, that official term is the only explanation given.

What you won't find there are details about that video or another internal affairs investigation brewing at the time; one much more troubling:

It involved a complaint about Browder's escalating communication with an underage girl.

According to internal affairs documents obtained from Lexington County, Browder initiated the social media conversation weeks earlier in October of 2017.

It started out casual. Deputy: "Hit me up if you need anything."

He first met the girl after her parents reported her as a possibly runaway.

The relationship progressed over messages. Two weeks later, he asked her to add him on Snapchat. She did.

And a little over a week later, he encouraged her to sneak out to meet him.

It's unclear if they met that night, according to the files received from the Lexington County Sheriff's Office. But, by then, the girl's aunt knew about the relationship and told an investigator at the Solicitor's Office for the 8th Judicial Circuit. He referred the complaint to the Lexington County Sheriff's Office. And it was handled as an internal affairs investigation.

In a written statement to internal affairs, Browder called the relationship provocative. “What I mean by provocative is that I’m a 24-year-old sheriff’s deputy and I sent messages and non-sexually explicit photos of myself to (her). I accept full responsibility for this and do apologize if I have left anything out.”

The photo he admitted to sending was one with his shirt off.

In that statement, he revealed more sexual relationships with other people while on the job, sex on duty, and explicit messages and photos he sent, some of him in uniform.

All those sexual encounters, he said, involved people over the age of 18.

But before the internal affairs investigation was complete, that video surfaced. Lexington County terminated Browder's employment on Dec. 5 of 2017.

The next day, it finalized the internal affairs investigation involving the underage girl. And that's where it ended.

Lexington County Sheriff's Office would not agree to an on-camera interview but said in a statement that read in part that the “documentation speaks for itself.”

A months-long investigation found South Carolina law enforcement agencies are not required to report certain kinds of bad behavior by cops to the justice academy. That process makes it tough for hiring agencies to find details about past behavior.

It means under certain circumstances, a deputy who resigns or is terminated can move from one agency to another with those details undisclosed.

"When an officer goes to work for another agency. That agency that's now hiring has to contact the previous agency to find out why did they leave. Did they leave under clear or did they leave under some allegation of misconduct,” South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy Director Jackie Swindler said.

As Swindler explained, only when there is a finding of misconduct does the academy get involved. The academy's misconduct rules are straight forward and the consequences severe.

"If you are found to be guilty of a misconduct you cannot work in this profession in this state and you're also placed in a national database where you shouldn't be allowed to police anywhere in this country,” Swindler said.

Swindler couldn't speak specifically to Browder's circumstances, so I described a similar scenario.

Would that rise to the level of misconduct?

"I'd have to have more facts, but one of those is if you committed a felony. So, the person would have to be in a situation under a substantial age difference under the statute to raise the level of felony and then there'd have to be some kind of obviously sexual act or so. So, what you're saying I don't hear anything - just on what you've said not knowing the facts - that would rise to the level of misconduct. Certainly could be conduct unbecoming or what you don't want that officer to be,” Swindler said.

As for Browder, he sat out of law enforcement for 11 months and took a job at a chicken plant. That was before Saluda County Sheriff's Office agreed to hire him.

According to his hiring file, Saluda County did contact Lexington County about Browder's separation. But we don't know what was shared or discussed.

Saluda County declined to comment saying it's a personnel matter. After weeks of trying to reach Deputy Browder and not knowing if he was aware of attempts to reach him, here's what happened.

Reporter: "I've been trying to reach Deputy Browder for the story I'm working on - the one you and I communicated about, and I…”

Chief Deputy Toby Horne: "Well, he has left our agency."

Reporter: “He's no longer employed here?”

Horne: “No, ma'am.”

Reporter: “Well, when did that happen?”

Horne: “He resigned Monday.”

Reporter: “This Monday? Did he give a reason?”

Horne: “No ma'am. He just gave us a resignation letter is all he gave us."

Browder's resignation letter is signed Jan. 20. It's the same day WTOC reached him by email and detailed the nature of the story.

That exchange happened Wednesday, Jan. 22. Also, last week, Browder's attorney sent a statement.

It read in part, “Browder's decision to leave law enforcement was made several months prior" and that he left law enforcement because it wasn't "conducive to a balanced family life."

According to his attorney, Browder has no plans to keep up with his certification.

A prior version of this news report included information that counsel for Browder represented to WTOC was incorrect. Because public records accessible to WTOC do not provide sufficient information to substantiate Browder’s counsel’s claim, WTOC has removed the information from the report.

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