Richland, SC — On Monday, the National Sheriffs Association handed out their highest honor and declared Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, Sheriff of the Year — for the entire United States.
“This is a tremendous honor both personally and for the state of South Carolina,” Lott said in a press release. “This is the first time a S.C. sheriff has been named national Sheriff of the Year."
This decision was undoubtedly made months ago, but there are likely some members of the association who are worried they may have egg on their face for this move. Around the same time the association made their decision, a lawsuit was filed accusing Lott and internal investigators within his department for coving up sexual abuse of children — for nearly a decade.
According to the lawsuit, Lott along with multiple members of the department, covered up the child sex crimes of the now-former deputy, Jamel Bradley from 2010 to 2019. The coverup, according to the filings, was carried out to save the department from embarrassment and liability — a 9-year conspiracy which has since been proven futile.
Lott and Capt. John E. Ewing, the former deputy’s supervisor, “deliberately and systematically concealed Deputy Bradley’s predatory nature and concealed their own knowledge of his predatory nature,” the filing said.
Bradley has since been arrested and charged with third degree criminal sexual conduct and sexual battery At the time of his arrests, Lott and the department were quick to distance themselves from the alleged child predator.
“I’m sick to my stomach over the thought of this girl being victimized by one of my former deputies. No child should be subjected to this, and I’m disgusted that it happened with someone who was entrusted with protecting our children.”
‘We didn’t ignore this,” Lott said. “As soon as this came to our attention...we got on it.’
But given the claims in the lawsuit, and the facts of the case, this was simply not true.
According to the lawsuit, Lott and others in the department knew about this abuse for years and there were multiple red flags the department swept under the rug which implicated Bradley in crimes against children.
Two of those red flags were lawsuits against the department and Richland school district officials, one of which settled last year for $900,000. Another red flag, according to The State, was evidence that Bradley had inappropriate relationships and possibly sexually assaulted a female student. That evidence included a lie detector test failed by the former deputy and emails with students that lawyers described as clearly suspicious.
For years, multiple other red flags were raised and subsequently ignored by the department. They included inappropriate emails sent by Bradley to children as well as Bradley sending photos of himself to another student. A parent came forward with concerns Bradley was having "sexual relations" with a child which went to the desks of Ewing and the sheriff and were swept under the rug again.
A student came forward as well and "gave a clear indication that she had been sexually assaulted” by Bradley. When the department was notified about these allegations, they told Bradley to simply stay away from the child. The student’s complaints “were not taken seriously,” the filing said. Bradley remained a resource officer at Spring Valley.
Because of the inaction by the department, and the lack of concern about the child's accusations, the girl's health deteriorated and she was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts for nearly two months.
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The department’s response to those incidents were deficient to the point of “concealment,” according to the lawsuit.
Highlighting the suspicious nature of these allegations is the fact the department tried to have this recent lawsuit thrown out — not because of lack of evidence — but claiming it was outside the statute of limitations. But lawyers for the plaintiff pointed out that the cover-up by the department and the sheriff excuses the late filing.
Two investigators — who apparently had a conscience — found the aforementioned student's accusations to be truthful and found Bradley to by lying so they opened a criminal investigation into the officer.
While one of these investigators was out of town, however, the criminal investigation was “closed mysteriously and abruptly.” According to the lawsuit, one of the investigators described Bradley as “above reproach” as the department protected him.
Despite the investigations, the failure of the lie detector tests, the accusations from parents and students alike, and the criminal complaints, Bradley, who had been temporarily reassigned amid the original investigation, was put back on the job as a school cop to continue the abuse.
The State reports, in a later deposition, Lott said that at the time of the polygraph test, he was not concerned that the operator believed Bradley was lying.
Despite all the evidence against Bradley, Lott stood by the cop, even going to bat for him during a deposition.
Lott said that he believed Bradley was innocent of all the allegations against him and that the abused child was being untruthful.
“Do you believe that the allegation from my client (Jane Doe 1) are untrue?” the lawyer asked.
“That’s correct,” Lott said.
“So you stand behind Deputy Bradley”
“That’s correct,” Lott said.
Just four months later, after the persistence of the two investigators finally led to charges against Bradley, Lott changed his tone and called his officer a "monster" who “hid behind the badge and my name for all this time.”
This sheriff just received one of the highest honors in the country, and he's apparently been covering up child sex abuse for years. This is the state of policing in 2021.