COLUMBIA — Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker let friends carry badges without training, gave away weapons to people he knew and let favored inmates have unsupervised visits with women and sleep outside jail with access to TV and alcohol, according to an indictment against the lawman.
Prosecutors laid out a story of a sheriff who skipped training and followed his own rules in the 20-page indictment released Wednesday. Parker is charged with four counts of misconduct in office and two counts of furnishing contraband to inmates. Each charge is a misdemeanor, carrying a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
But Parker’s attorney said he got tripped up in confusing regulations on what a sheriff can and cannot do. Parker did not intend to break the law and will fight the charges vigorously, defense attorney Johnny Gasser said.
“Sam Parker is not a criminal,” Gasser said.
Gasser said Parker was doing things that law enforcement has allowed rural sheriffs to do for decades. He said no one ever came to the sheriff and told him he was doing anything wrong. Instead, he said prosecutors took the case to the State Grand Jury without giving Parker a chance to change his ways or tell his side of the story.
Authorities said Parker gave special treatment to two inmates over the past five years. Michael Lee was spending 15 years behind bars for arson and William Skipper was serving seven years for drug trafficking when they came to Chesterfield County as part of a program that uses state inmates that were sent to counties for public work.
According to officials, both inmates were allowed outside the jail to sleep at the Chesterfield County armory and that they had television sets and drank alcohol. Lee also had an iPad, refrigerator and grill, according to court documents.
The indictment said inmates drove sheriff’s vehicles around the county, went to restaurants and had unsupervised visits with women. In exchange, they did chores, built a recreation building on Parker’s private property and helped the sheriff’s wife decorate for a party, prosecutors said.
The prisoners became close to Parker. They spent holidays with the sheriff and took trips to the lake with his family, the indictment also states.
The indictment also said the sheriff gave away confiscated weapons, including an M-14 semi-automatic rifle given to the sheriff’s office by the federal government. It said a friend of the sheriff with no law enforcement training got the M-14. He also gave a sniper rifle bought by the sheriff’s office and a handgun seized by deputies to other friends who were not officers, authorities said.
Parker also allowed people that he called reserve deputies to wear police uniforms and carry badges even though they did not have any training to be law officers, according to the indictment.
Parker has been in law enforcement for almost four decades. He started working for the Chesterfield and Cheraw police departments before becoming a deputy. He worked for more than 10 years as an investigator and pilot for the State Law Enforcement Division before he became Chesterfield County Sheriff in 2003. Gasser said Parker’s record until now has been spotless and it should remain spotless after a jury hears his case.
“In all his time in law enforcement, you won’t find anyone with a better reputation than Sam Parker,” Gasser said.