Columbia, SC (WLTX) - The executive director of the Richland County Recreation Commission has been indicted by a Richland County grand jury on a charge of misconduct in office.
The indictment decision was announced Wednesday, according to the South Carolina Attorney General's Office. The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
The indictment claims that between 2012 and 2015, Brown used his position as the head of the agency to coerce and attempt to coerce female employees into having sexual contact with him.
After the indictment was released, J. Marie Green, the chairwoman of the board for the commission released a statement. In it she wrote,"Based on today's action by the Richland County Grand Jury, Executive Director, James Brown III, has been suspended without pay."
Jay Babb, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the civil lawsuits, said he hopes the governor who has stayed quiet thus far will now step in.
"We really want the governor to take this opportunity to right the ship. We want her to take this opportunity to get the right board members in place. If the governor takes action now and I think she's been considering it. She's now got an opportunity to address this matter and I think she could do it in a quick fashion if she really wanted to," Babb said.
Multiple Richland County lawmakers also commented.
In a statement Senator Joel Lourie said, "Today’s development is an important step in fixing the horrific problems at the recreation commission. For a year now we have been hearing horror stories from current and previous employees about the way they have been treated by the director. These desperate calls for help have been irresponsibly ignored by the Commission. Today's action only strengthens our resolve that the five commissioners who support Mr. Brown need to resign or be removed by Governor Haley immediately. Also, I want to personally tell the employees of the Recreation Commission and the citizens of Richland County that you deserve better, and it is my hope that members of this delegation will do everything possible to quickly restore trust and accountability with this agency.”
“Senator Lourie and I, in a bipartisan manner, introduced legislation this year to turn the governance of the Recreation Commission over to Richland County Council. They are proving funding and they should have the appointment powers of the commission. I intend to refile the legislation in the next legislative session beginning in January of 2017,” said Senator John Courson.
“As a woman and mother of 2 daughters, I am appalled that the women employed at RCRC have been subjected to such egregious and disgusting conduct by Director James Brown. This is one step in the right direction and a small victory for the many women who have been vocal about the inappropriate conduct at the commission and other victims of sexual harassment. Since Director Brown has been indicted, the Governor should utilize her authority to remove Mr. Brown along with the Board Commissioners who were complicit by failing to intervene once they had notice,“ said Representative Beth Bernstein.
“As a parent and citizen of Richland county, this is beyond embarrassing. It makes me angry and disgusted. No woman should ever have to deal with this, especially from her employer. My hope, is that all who are involved will move quickly to restore the faith and trust of our community. Previously, I stated that the Commissioners, regardless of guilt or innocence, would always operate under a cloud of suspicion unless they took decisive action. Once again, I ask them to take decisive action now, for the sake of our children and community,” said Representative Mia McLeod.
“This is about the terrible mismanagement of the Recreation Commission from both the director and the five board members that support him. I hope Governor Haley will take quick action to remove them so we can go about the business of cleaning up their mess. The people of Richland County are counting on us,” said Representative Joe McEachern.
“The news of Mr. Brown’s indictment adds further support to our request to Governor Haley that she take action to remove the five Recreation Commissioners who voted to support Director Brown’s continued employment,” Representative James Smith said.
“This is a positive step for taxpayers that want answers. I hope all members of this delegation will take this opportunity to insist upon the truth in this matter and join our efforts to clean house,” said Representative Nathan Ballentine.
News 19 was unable to reach Senators Jackson and McElveen and Representatives Douglas, Finaly and Hart.
Senator Scott and Representatives Rutherford and Neal declined to comment.
Representative Bales said he expects the governor to make a decision regarding James Brown III soon.
And Representative Howard said Brown will have his day in court and is innocent until proven guilty.
Brown himself declined to comment, but referred us to his attorney Mark Whitlark.
"He's earned this job that he has through his education, experience, training and his hard work over the years. I can indict a ham sandwich for that charge. It's just a catch all charge. Let's just get him for misconduct. He's been coercing females. And you know with this it's not true," Whitlark said.
The investigation into the commission has been part of a joint effort by the Richland County Sheriff's Department, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney General's office, and the South Carolina Attorney General's office.
The recreation commission is responsible for managing the parks and recreation programs throughout the county. Since March, five civil lawsuits have been filed against the commission, Brown, members of the board and other employees.
No word yet on when Brown will have his first court appearance.