For several years, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott ignored a slew of separate complaints accusing school resource officer Jamel Bradley of child predator behavior, according to court documents filed just days before Lott was named Sheriff of the Year by the National Sheriff’s Association.
Despite these complaints, Lott continued to allow Bradley to work as a school resource officer around teenagers in Richland County School District Two and Bradley’s predatory behavior escalated before he was fired and arrested for criminal sexual conduct in November 2019, according to recent court filings.
In court documents filed last week, lawyers representing “Jane Doe 2,” a former Spring Valley High School student who was allegedly sexually abused by Bradley in 2015 and 2016, argue that both Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) and Richland Two officials “deliberately concealed” their knowledge of Bradley’s predatory conduct.
Bradley is accused of sexually abusing three minor victims from 2011 to 2019 while he worked in high schools in Columbia, South Carolina.
In the 2019 press conference (below) announcing his arrest, Lott called Bradley “a monster that worked among us that we did not know about.”
But they did know about him. RCSD officials internally investigated and dismissed more than five reports alleging Bradley’s predatory behavior around teenage girls.
Lott knew of these allegations in 2015, according to court documents.
Yet, he acted stunned in a press conference in 2020 when Bradley was charged in Jane Doe 2’s case.
“I am mad as hell that this monster hid behind the badge and my name for all this time,” Sheriff Lott said in a press conference.
Was he really hiding behind a badge though?
According to court filings, there was a clear paper trail dating back to 2010 that showed reports of Jamel Bradley behaving inappropriately around female high school students. In a July 2019 deposition, Lott admitted to his knowledge of these allegations and told the lawyer he thought Bradley was a “good school resource officer.”
The well-documented allegations raise some serious questions about Lott — one of South Carolina’s most powerful lawmen in charge of one of the largest sheriff’s departments in South Carolina.
- If Lott was willing to lie to the public about his knowledge of the allegations, what else would he lie about?
- Why would the Richland County Sheriff’s Department continue to employ and protect a deputy with a track record of misconduct allegations with high school girls?
- Why would they allow him to work at a school district — a predator’s playground— for years before firing him?
Lott is the only South Carolina law enforcement leader whose agency investigates its own officers accused of criminal activity (with the exception of SLED).
The latest court documents question the integrity of RCSD’s internal investigations and Lott’s leadership.
RCSD officials, including Lott, and Richland County School District Two administrators “repeatedly and consistently undertook to shield Deputy Bradley from scrutiny; to protect him from gossip at the expense of the safety of school children; to keep Bradley employed in the schools of Richland District 2 and later Richland District 1 despite the qualms/ objections of other deputies and school official,” Jane Doe 2’s lawyers argued in the latest filing.
2010 and 2011 Allegations
In 2010, Bradley was verbally counseled for giving female students rides in his patrol car. This was the first of many complaints launched against Bradley about his alleged predatory behavior toward female students.
In 2011, an administrator reported that he made an inappropriate comment about a female student’s dress.
These allegations came to light during a 2011 internal affairs investigation that was launched after a teacher at Richland Northeast High School reported to RCSD officials and Richland Two administrators that deputy Jamel Bradley, a SRO officer at the time, was having an inappropriate relationship with a student.
During the 2011 internal affairs investigation, RCSD officials asked Bradley a total of seven questions before closing the case. They continued to allow Bradly “to prey on students on the campuses of schools within Richland County for the next 8 years” as a SRO, court filings said.
According to court documents, Richland Two school district administrators had full knowledge of these accusations as well, and didn’t even bother to do their own Title IX investigation, as their own guidelines require.
Instead, they relied on the sheriff’s office to conduct a proper internal investigation, according to court documents.
“A proper Title IX investigation of this 2011 complaint would have curtailed Bradley’s ability to continue to prey on students on the campuses of schools within Richland County for the next 8 years until his ultimate removal from the Sheriff’s Department on October 30, 2019,” Jane Doe 2’s attorneys argued in the latest filing.
Following the sheriff’s department investigation, RCSD officials told Bradley to “keep all relationships with students strictly on a law enforcement basis” and to have no personal contact with any student outside of his SRO duties, according to court records.
One night in December 2015, Richland County deputies doing undercover drug work saw Bradley meeting up with a high school student (identified as Jane Doe 2 by her license plate number) in the Target parking lot on Two Notch Road in Columbia, South Carolina.
One of the deputies immediately reported the incident to Captain John Ewing of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.
According to a sheriff’s office report (below), Ewing concluded that “based on the sensitivity of this issue and the fact that very little people need to know about this,” he reported the incident directly to Lott in 2015.
“[T]he fact that an officer is going behind a building at dark with a female, if that got out around the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, everyone would be talking about it,” Ewing said in deposition.
So instead of reporting the alleged criminal activity to internal affairs or the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), Ewing conducted his own “investigation,” according to court documents.
During this investigation, Ewing told a Spring Valley official that he needed to interview Jane Doe 2, but her parents did not need to be contacted.
Ewing interviewed both Jane Doe 2 and Bradley to see if their stories matched up, which they did not, according to court flings.
SIGN UP …
Ewing’s investigation ended on the same day it started, according to court records.
He concluded that Bradley’s conduct was “inappropriate,” but justified it as “a mistake.”
Richland Two officials never contacted Jane Doe 2’s parents to tell them about the incident or the investigation, even though Jane Doe 2’s mother worked for the school district, according to court documents.
What Sheriff Lott Knew
If the incident was effectively investigated by Ewing, RCSD would have been aware of inappropriate emails between Bradley and Jane Doe 2 in 2015, according to court filings.
“Happy Thanksgiving… miss you,” Bradley wrote from his Richland Two email account weeks before the incident at Target.
“What time do you think you may be home tomorrow? Bradley emailed Jane Doe Two on November 28.
He also sent her a photo of himself and said “for you.”
Keep in mind, this is a deputy who was given specific instructions to have no contact with students outside of his duties as a SRO.
During a July 2019 deposition, Lott said he was aware of all the previous allegations and had reviewed the email exchanges between Jane Doe 2 and Bradley.
Lott took no issue with the emails and said he didn’t think they were inappropriate in a 2019 deposition.
In fact, in July 2019 — just months before Lott stood before the press and called Bradley a “sexual predator” and “monster,” he defended Bradley and said he was a “good school resource officer.”
Asked if it was suspicious to him that Bradley was accused of inappropriate behavior with students four separate times in eight years, Lott said no.
When Lott was asked about Bradley getting caught meeting up in a dark parking lot with a teenager at night, Lott said he didn’t think it was “the smartest thing to do” but wouldn’t call it “totally inappropriate.”
Click below to read Leon Lott’s entire deposition.bradleyleonlottdep
2016 and 2018 Allegations
In May 2016, a parent told RCSD officials that her daughter had proof of a sexual relationship between Bradley and a student and said she was aware of other allegations against Bradley that were covered up and pushed aside for years, according to court records.
RCSD opened an internal affairs investigation and closed it a week later after asking Bradley seven questions, again. This was the fifth serious allegation launched against Bradley in six years — yet both the sheriff’s department and the school district continued to assign Bradley to Spring Valley HIgh School, according to court filings.
In March 2018, a 15-year-old sophomore “Jane Doe” indicated to Spring Valley administrators that Bradley sexually assaulted her and there were rumors circling around school that she was pregnant with his baby, according to court documents.
Bradley’s supervisor was aware of these allegations and chalked them up to “just a rumor,” according to court documents.
In April 2018, Jane Doe again tried to tell Spring Valley administrators that she was being sexually abused, according to court filings.
“Unfortunately, Jane Doe’s complaints were not taken seriously, and Deputy Bradley remained at Spring Valley High School,” court documents filed by the plaintiff’s attorney said. “This caused Jane Doe’s mental health to deteriorate to the point of being hospitalized for 50 days for suicidal ideations.”
Jane Doe’s health provider then contacted RCSD and urged them to investigate Bradley, according to court documents.
During that investigation, Jane Doe told a forensic interviewer that Bradley sexually assaulted her.
Though multiple Richland County investigators believed Jane Doe, the case was abruptly closed due to “lack of evidence,” according to court filings.
RELATED: Richland County Cop Accused Of Coercing 2 Black Teens In Rape Case Exchanged Racist Texts, Affidavit Says
The polygraph examiner said he believed Jane Doe over Bradley, who purposely was uncooperative while taking his lie detector test, according to court records.
The polygraph examiner recommended that Bradley should be removed from the SRO program and away from children, but RCSD officials didn’t listen.
Bradley was placed on administrative leave for one day then reassigned as an SRO to Richland One in 2018 “though he continued to return to the campus of Spring Valley High School in official uniform to sexually assault students into 2019,” court filings say.
RCSD officials did not tell Richland One administrators about the previous accusations against Bradley when he was reassigned.
In Lott’s 2019 deposition, he was very clear that he did not believe Jane Doe or the allegations against Bradley.
RCSD officials even went to the extent of violating FOIA laws to protect Bradley. The sheriff’s department refused to produce Bradley’s records to Jane Doe’s mother in 2018 and a judge had to issue an order to force them to comply, according to court records.
“SRO Bradley was considered a ‘unicorn’ in the force – in that he was considered rare and precious and above reproach,” a RCSD captain said, according to court documents. Bradley was also a USC basketball star in the early 2000s.
There’s a bit of a mystery behind what made Lott and RCSD officials change their mind on Bradley. A flip switched, apparently, and he was fired in October 2019 and charged with criminal sexual misconduct in November 2019.
In the 2019 press conference, Lott said he would “like to kill” Bradley.
For 25 years, Lott has served as the sheriff of Richland County, which includes the state capitol of Columbia, South Carolina. He’s beloved in Richland County and has recently gained national fame for his role on Live PD.
He’s the first South Carolina sheriff to be given the national Sheriff of the Year title — one of the highest awards in law enforcement.
Lott is also beloved by local media. He does a lot of press conferences. He’s highly quotable. He’s a smooth talker. At times, he admits fault and appears transparent and honest when he apologizes for his mistakes. And he’s rarely publicly criticized.
But in the past few years, several lawsuits have revealed a different side to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.
RELATED: Two Richland County Teens Jailed For Almost A Year After Rape They Didn’t Commit, Lawsuit Says
Last year, FITSNews was the first media outlet to report on a lawsuit that alleges two black teenagers were coerced into signing rape confessions then wrongfully jailed for month — even after DNA evidence proved their innocence (click link above for story).
That lawsuit has uncovered major problems within the Richland County Sheriff’s Department under Lott’s leadership — including racist texts allegedly sent by a senior investigator that Lott has never addressed.
In an October court filing, lawyers representing the two teenagers allege that there is “culture of misconduct and coverup” at RCSD.
“Its recent history of overlooking and covering up misconduct by deputies is well-documented in the public record,” plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in the motion.
In August, FITSNews was the only news outlet to report on another alarming lawsuit against RCSD. Master deputy Kyle Oliver allegedly entered a home illegally and woke up a sleeping family at gunpoint over a traffic ticket.
Oliver was fired a few weeks later in a separate incident that Lott claimed to not know about. On Jan. 7 2020, Oliver was caught on video grabbing a woman by the hair and throwing her to the ground.
Lott claimed to have no knowledge of the incident until the week Oliver was fired and charged.
Just like he said about the Bradley allegations….
Georgetown attorneys Scott C. Evans, James B. Moore and Charleston attorney Daniel C. Boles are representing Jane Doe 2 in the Bradley lawsuit.
The State Newspaper was first to report on the Bradley court documents last week.
FITSNews will be keeping a close eye on these lawsuits as they develop…stay tuned.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your tips to email@example.com.
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our articles? Or an issue you’d like to address proactively? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your letter to the editor (or guest column) via email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.
SIGN UP …