Former Charleston County sheriff's detective Charles Lawrence was disciplined by his superiors on at least four separate occasions before he was fired this month for attempting to conceal details of his affair with a murder suspect's mother, personnel records revealed.
The documents, which were obtained by The Post and Courier through the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, also showed the relationship wasn't the first time Lawrence's personal life got in the way of his ability to do his job. In June 2011, Lawrence's superiors were asked to mediate a jealousy-fueled spat between the detective and two women he was said to be involved with - one of whom was a co-worker.
Since joining the Sheriff's Office 11 years ago, Lawrence has faced accusations of misconduct, insubordination, violating department policies and inappropriate behavior, yet his job never was in jeopardy before, according to his superiors. A sergeant once referred to his actions as "putrid," but disciplinary actions never went further than reprimands and suspensions in the past.
"Maybe we should have seen something, but before this last incident, we had, I believe, one case of him being untruthful to his supervisor," Assistant Sheriff Mitch Lucas said. "It's easy to say a lie, is a lie, is a lie, but in the real world we don't treat each lie the same. Do we discipline people for telling a small lie, or a lie that doesn't have serious repercussions? Certainly we do. But it doesn't mean that everyone who ever tells a lie to their supervisor is going to be fired.
"Besides the lie, the personal characteristic that we missed in Lawrence was his extremely poor decision making concerning his personal life. That's what got us here."
Lawrence was fired July 9 amid accusations that he had an intimate relationship with the mother of Derrick S. Brown Jr., 22, while investigating a killing that Brown and another man are suspected of committing nearly two years ago. The alleged affair came to light in a motion for dismissal filed July 16 by an attorney for Brown's co-defendant, Reginald Gordon, 24.
Both men are charged with murder and possession of a firearm in the August 2012 shooting death of 25-year-old Dominique Grant outside a Ravenel nightclub.
The case was scheduled to go to trial July 28 but was postponed for further investigation into Lawrence's actions.
Lawrence declined to comment on the allegations against him Monday, saying he was in the process of hiring an attorney.
When questioned this month by Internal Affairs, Lawrence reported that he never promised Brown's mother any favors related to the murder investigation, court documents showed.
Lawrence was terminated after his superiors concluded he had asked the woman to lie on his behalf about the timing of their relationship. His firing later was overturned and Lawrence was allowed to resign.
Prior to his hiring in 2003, Lawrence worked as a deputy sheriff in Orangeburg County and a sergeant for the S.C. State University Police Department. He also served 10 years in the U.S. Navy.
Lawrence had no reported reprimands while employed as a deputy in Orangeburg County, spokeswoman Keisa Peterson said. Officials with S.C. State University did not return a request for comment this week.
Lawrence's disciplinary record in Charleston County began in October 2007 when he was suspended for failing to show up for work and lying to his superior about his whereabouts.
He became the subject of a State Law Enforcement Division investigation in December 2008 after he fired his gun at a black SUV that twice struck his vehicle and fled the scene. He was off-duty and in a private vehicle when the incident occurred, authorities said.
SLED cleared Lawrence of any wrongdoing in the shooting, according to Lucas, who said the vehicle Lawrence fired at was being used as a deadly weapon. But Lawrence was suspended five days without pay for violating policy by not identifying himself as a law enforcement officer before firing his weapon.
He also failed to advise them that shots had been fired during his initial call to dispatch, according to a letter of suspension dated May 22, 2009.
"I find that these violations are serious, and jeopardized not only your safety, but the safety of other responders," Maj. Thomas Honan, who has since retired, said in the letter.
In July 2010 Lawrence confronted a murder suspect's relative in a parking lot following a preliminary hearing, the disciplinary records showed.
A letter of reprimand written at the time by Sgt. Clarice Zimmer alleged that Lawrence used profanity and displayed "aggressive body language" when he approached the relative. He ignored commands from his superior ordering him to walk away, the letter said.
"Your behavior and your actions were putrid, inappropriate, and indicated a distinct lack of respect for me (your direct supervisor)," Zimmer wrote, adding that the situation demonstrated Lawrence's inability to control his emotions.
Zimmer wrote an additional letter of reprimand against Lawrence in the June 2011 incident regarding his relationship with a co-worker.
The situation was personal, Zimmer stated in that letter, but "it is beginning to have a negative impact on the day-to-day operations of the Sheriff's Office."
Lawrence had been warned on "numerous occasions" not to let his private affairs interfere with his work, the letter continued.
"This current situation clearly demonstrates your inability to heed our counsel and implement the directives provided to you," Zimmer wrote.
This month, word of Lawrence's affair with Brown's mother sent ripples through the legal community after 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson advised area attorneys to re-evaluate any case in which Lawrence might be a witness.
Marvin Bowens, the father of convicted armed robber Marvin Bowens Green, 23, has since alleged that Lawrence lied on the stand to sway an indictment in his son's case.
Lawrence identified Green as a suspect after he recognized the man in surveillance video that was captured of the December 2010 robbery, an incident report stated. Green is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
"(Lawrence) lied, saying he's known me and my family for nine years when he's really only known me for maybe two years. He said he knew it was my son because my son walks with a pigeon toe, but there was no way for him to tell from the video if the person walked with a pigeon toe. He was just making up things," Bowens said in an interview. "They went on his word. Detective Lawrence's testimony helped convict my son."
Bowens hasn't filed an official complaint with the Solicitor's Office about Lawrence. And Wilson said she hasn't received complaints from any defense attorneys regarding the detective's prior work.
"I will not be surprised if many defendants make claims out of desperation. We and the courts will have to examine each one on its merits," Wilson said in an email. "Most of the time investigators' work is corroborated in some form, so hopefully we won't have any convictions that are affected."
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.
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