The campaign between Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and the man hoping to unseat him, former South Carolina Law Enforcement Division agent James Flowers, is getting ugly. Not contentious; ugly.
The two sparred recently, trading jabs and hooks about everything from department transparency to race, accountability and alleged corruption. The forum had all the elements of a pre-fight press conference—emotion, tension and a knowing from each man that his truth will prevail and that his foe is going to go down. Hard.
While this sort of quarreling among political foes is sometimes to be expected, another combatant has entered the ring and he’s not running for sheriff—he’s the sitting 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson.
Yes, if Flowers were to dethrone Lott, who is seeking his sixth term, this could be problematic on multiple levels. If Lott and Flowers traded jabs and hooks, Flowers and Johnson have exchanged uppercuts and elbows.
According to The State newspaper, Johnson responded to Flowers’s accusations that he mishandled a deputy-involved shooting by calling Flowers “aggressive,” “lazy” and “the worst kind of law enforcement officer.”
Flowers was referring to a 2007 killing of a knife-wielding man by a Richland County deputy. Flowers was one of the SLED agents who investigated the shooting and believes the deputy should’ve been charged with manslaughter, at least. He blames Johnson for clearing the deputy.
Before being elected solicitor, Johnson was Lott’s chief deputy.
But according to records, Johnson was sworn in the day after the deputy was cleared by an assistant solicitor working for the solicitor Johnson replaced, Barney Giese.
Flowers called that a formality.
“They didn’t wait until the day before he swore in to close that case for nothing,” Johnson said. “[J]ust because he was sworn in the day after doesn’t mean anything.”
Lott says if Flowers thought it was a bad shooting, he should’ve been “screaming and hollering” then, not all these years later when he’s running for sheriff.
Johnson is concerned that if Flowers becomes sheriff, he would be unfair to folks who don’t have the power to fight back.
“He is lazy, and I’ll fight him,” Johnson said.
This Sidebar reporter believes that Lott has got to be the betting favorite. But should Flowers take the title of the county’s top cop, here’s to hoping that he and Johnson can—just as professional fighters are—be respectful and hug it out in the end.
Or at least shake hands and agree to work together for the greater good.