Johnston councilman guilty of assault


JOHNSTON, S.C. -- Following more than an hour of testimony and evidence presented, Magistrate Judge Brenda Carpenter found Johnston Town Councilman Tommy Burton guilty Thursday of third-degree assault and battery and disorderly conduct charges.

The fines for the charges are $425 and $280, respectively.

The charges stem from a July 3 incident in which Burton became involved in a verbal dispute with two teenage family members. One of the teens said Burton "grabbed him by his shirt" and "used profane language against him," according to a police report on the incident. The report also states that Burton became angry when the teens crossed his property and that the teen he "grabbed" was being disrespectful to him.

Answering to the charge of assault and battery before Carpenter, Burton said Thursday he was "absolutely not guilty." Meanwhile, on the charge of disorderly conduct, Burton said, "I can see where I might be somewhat guilty."

Burton admitted to touching one of the teens, and claimed the responding officer -- Deputy Felicia Holmes of the Edgefield County Sheriff's Office -- said when he made that admission he was "under arrest for assault and battery."

Holmes disputed that claim, telling the judge that Burton was not arrested that day, in part as a courtesy because his brother's funeral had taken place just the day before, but had he been arrested it would have been for his loud behavior and continued use of profanity toward her and other officers.

Holmes said Burton was also upset because she, rather than Johnston police, responded to the incident. That is standard procedure to avoid any conflict of interest when an elected official is involved, she said.

"The main issue was with me responding," she told the court. "I spoke with (the victim) and he stated that Mr. Burton grabbed him and cursed him. I guess on this particular day, (Burton) had pretty much had too much to drink and didn't like the way the children were coming through his yard and it got out of hand. I asked Mr. Burton if he touched (the victim) and he said he did and that he should have put his foot up his a-- for being disrespectful."

The first victim, the teen allegedly grabbed by Burton, then gave his account of the incident.

"We were coming from the store and we came through his yard and he stopped us and started talking junk ... and he kept on talking junk and calling us a punk a-- and calling us a punk a-- and I got tired of him calling me a punk a-- so I said, ‘Man, you a punk to me.'" the teen said. "Then he said, ‘I'm a punk? I'm a punk? You get your g-- d--- out my yard and don't walk through my yard no more.' Then he started talking about the way my little cousin's pants was, and I said, 'Let's go.' I was pushing my little cousin up the hill, and (Burton) grabbed me and turned me around."

The teen told Holmes he felt threatened by Burton.

"We do that every day, come through his yard," the teen added. "He told us earlier this year just to say hey, and that's what we did."

Following the teen's statement, Burton told the judge, "I don't recall anything that he just said to be the truth."

Burton turned and asked the teen if he had at any time ever been told to remain off of his property before.

The teen said, "No, sir."

Burton shook his head disapprovingly and turned back toward Carpenter.

Next to offer testimony was the mother of the first victim, who is also Burton's niece.

She stated she did not see Burton put his hands on her son.

"I told (my son) to shut up and come up the hill, and I told Uncle Tommy them is kids and he ain't had no business doing that to them kids," she said. "They were still going at it when I got there, but as far as seeing anything like that, no, ma'am, I didn't, but they were still passing words."

"What planet were you on?" Burton asked his niece. "I didn't see you that day. I heard your mouth, but I didn't see you. We did not speak on that day."

Burton then testified to his side of the events.

"They are trying to make it look like I was intoxicated, but I wanted to talk to (the second victim) but (the first victim) was over there making faces at me because he knew he wasn't supposed to be on my property, and his momma knew it and his grandmother knew it and his granddaddy, my brother, knew it," Burton said.

"I asked (the first victim) how about wait on the property line and he said, 'Punk, you can't tell nobody what to do or where to go.' At that time I got up, tapped him on the shoulder and told him to get on up the hill. And when I tapped him on the shoulder, that was it. He took off up the hill hollering for his momma saying, ‘He touched me, Ma. Call the law, he put his hands on me.' As far as me grabbing his shirt, that didn't happen."

At this point, Burton produced a sealed letter, which he stated was written by the second victim's mother regarding her son's statement on the incident. Carpenter ruled the letter inadmissible because the victim was not on hand to authenticate the letter as his written statement.

"Unless the person is actually here to testify, I cannot use that letter," Carpenter said. "The prosecution has the right to question this person about what they are saying in this letter, and they are not here to answer those questions."

Continuing his testimony, Burton said, "I never assaulted this kid. I did not even tap him on the shoulder. I touched him. If I had done what he said I did, I would say that I did it because I'm not a liar."

Burton said he felt as though the teen was trying to goad him into a physical response.

"He wanted me to touch him," Burton said. "Ma'am, however I am found here today is fine and I'll accept that, but what is being said here is not the truth."

The court then addressed the second charge of disorderly conduct, with Holmes stating the reason Burton was so charged, by statute, was because of his profanity and loud behavior in proximity to a road and a church.

Holmes then entered into evidence a police car video of her interaction with him that day.

On the video, Burton appears distraught and exhibiting unusual behavior.

Early in the recording, Burton warns law enforcement officers, "First of all, I am armed. Let me say that to all of y'all!"

Holmes asks what he is armed with.

"I am armed with some freaking firearms," Burton says. "What do you mean what am I armed with?"

Later, Burton, making an emphatic kicking motion with his right foot into the air, says, "I should have put my foot up his a-- two years ago! I should have put my foot in his a--! Do you have that recording going on? I didn't put my foot in his a-- because he's a child, but he was cursing at me."

Burton then appears to calm a bit, but eventually his voice is raised again.

"I tell you what, if you don't have no more respect for me than this?" he says. "I tell you what, (Edgefield County Sheriff) Adell Dobey? I'll tell him, he will never be re-elected in this county again!"

Burton spoke later in the video as he again grew more irate after recounting the incident.

"He's up in my face talking to me on my property and I have a no trespassing sign? You damn right I touched him! You freaking right I touched him! Now, is there anything else you need to know?" Burton is seen saying.

He accused Holmes of attempted entrapment.

After the video was over, Carpenter asked for any additional comment.

"Well, the video speaks for itself," Burton said. "And if I'm guilty, I'm guilty. But I just want the court to know that what (the first victim) said happened is false."

Carpenter then handed down the pair of guilty verdicts to Burton, saying, "Mr. Burton, I am going to find you guilty on assault and battery as well as on the disorderly conduct. You clearly stated that you touched him. You were really upset and I can understand why you got upset and all that, but when you take it to the degree to where you put your hands on someone to where they feel threatened by it, that's when it brings it to a level of an assault.

"I don't know how much you had to drink. I don't think the actions I saw would have been your normal actions had you not had a fair amount to drink. But sometimes alcohol does speak for us, and we do things that we would not normally do. And when you can be heard by other people in surrounding areas, that definitely fits the bill."

Carpenter told Burton to consult with law enforcement to make sure that proper notice had been paid to the victim to remain off his property going forward.

The victim's mother told the court that law enforcement had already notified both her and her son that he was not allowed to enter Burton's property again, which was confirmed by Johnston Police Department Investigator Lamaz Robinson.




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