What happens when a sheriff’s deputy is caught on camera shooting docile animals with his department-issued shotgun? In South Carolina, he’s commended by superiors and bestowed an award for service.
While the supposed animal cruelty incident was recorded on body-worn and dash-mounted police cameras, it appears as though this evidence was concealed and forgotten by personnel of the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) … until now.
Last month, FITSNews was provided approximately two minutes of graphic footage that is — dare we say — an abhorrent example of government overreach and animal cruelty. Unless, of course, you condone the haphazard deployment of shotguns upon innocent canines during service calls.
“SHOOT ON SIGHT”
On December 17, 2022, a frightened 92-year-old woman called Laurens County emergency services to report three dogs loitering about her backyard. She informed the operator that her goat had died three days prior, and that three unattended animals were gunning for its carcass.
“I’m really afraid to go outside,” the senior citizen said during her fleeting conversation with dispatch — timestamped at 8:49 a.m. that Saturday. “They’re just big ol’ dogs. And they’re just out here in my back yard, going in and out of this little shed that goes to where the goat was.”
The woman was transferred to animal control’s answering machine and subsequently left a message, per recordings obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
Within thirty minutes, the woman’s son called the same emergency service line and spoke with the same dispatch operator. He requested permission to shoot the dogs as animal control services were unavailable until Monday morning.
“I know one of them’s a German Shepard and it has a collar on,” he exclaimed during his recorded conversation with dispatch. “They’re probably somebody’s pets, or some kid’s pets … I just don’t want my momma to go out that door, which I done told her!”
Dispatch informed the caller of his constitutional rights before — at long last — contacting the singular animal control unit on-call. The officer in question? Purported animal rights advocate, LCSO Sgt. Brown.
(Click to view)
In mid-2020, Brown became a deputized sergeant after Laurens County council approved sheriff Don Reynolds’ request to take over animal control — and supply its employees with ammunition and arresting power.
“Since I have taken office, we have increased arrests involving animal cruelty by 240 percent,” Reynolds said at the time. “Animal control has done a good job under the supervision of … Geoff Brown. We will continue together as one. The Laurens County Sheriff’s Office will not tolerate animal neglect or cruelty. Period.”
Within months of the amalgamation, No Kill South Carolina and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) were lauding Brown for his overthrow of a puppy mill, eradication of canine hoarding and ceaseless denunciation of animal cruelty.
Hold your applause, though … there’s more to this story.
When dispatch notified Brown of the dogs at issue on this particular morning, he somehow recognized them as an elusive pack of “dangerous animals running at large.” Or at least that’s what he titled them in an incorrectly dated incident report obtained through FOIA.
“The city’s supposed to know about this … It’s been authorized to shoot on sight,” Brown said during his recorded conversation with dispatch — provided to FITSNews. He then instructed emergency services to deploy the Laurens Police Department (LPD) and kill as many of these “dangerous” canines as possible.
“If they only get one [dog], that’s one that’s put down and I’ll remove it,” continued Brown from the confines of his home in Kinards. “I will be on my way. It’s going to take me a minute to get dressed and get there.”
THREE DOGS, ONE BUCKSHOT BLAST …
At 9:29 a.m., LPD was dispatched to the 92-year-old’s property with explicit orders to shoot and kill the dogs without consequence. Upon arrival, though, the responding LPD officers evaluated the situation and refused the order.
“As I walked around the residence, I saw a beige in color dog that had a collar around his neck,” one LPD officer wrote in his accurately dated incident report. “While waiting on animal control from Laurens County Sheriff’s Office to arrive on scene, all three dogs were laying on the ground in the back yard.”
Simply put, LPD refused to shoot the dogs as they were stationary and docile amid oncoming squad cars and bustling officers. That is, until Byrd and Brown arrived …
“Lieutenant Byrd and sergeant Brown exited their vehicles without making contact with myself or sergeant Willard,” continued the LPD officer. “Lieutenant Byrd had his shotgun in his possession. When both Laurens County deputies approached the dogs, all three were still laying on the ground.”
As body-worn and dash-mounted police cameras explicitly reveal, Byrd and Brown nonchalantly walk towards the dogs before stopping approximately 30 yards (90 feet) from where the animals were sunbathing.
Byrd takes a knee and casually mounts his 12-gauge shotgun while Brown shields his ears from the eminent blast. He racks a buckshot and pulls the trigger.
“[Byrd] shot the larger beige collared dog with his shotgun,” concluded the LPD officer. “All three dogs at this time took off running in different directions. The injured collared dog limped away into the woodline yelping. Neither Lieutenant Byrd nor Sergeant Brown made contact with the complainant while I was on scene.”
Take a look …
(Click to view)
SWEPT UNDER THE BADGE …
Five months after Byrd was captured on camera firing his department-issued shotgun into a docile canine, the deputy was honored by his fellow brothers and sisters in blue.
On May 24, 2023, Byrd received the prestigious Laurens County Officer of the Year Award during a widely publicized ceremony at Piedmont Technical College (PTI). Sheriff Reynolds spoke at the service in praise of Byrd.
(Click to view)
“Lieutenant Byrd is a dedicated employee to this office,” Reynolds said during the ceremony. “He is reliable and shows great strength of character. I am proud of Byrd and his efforts to be compassionate to victims and bring justice to criminals.”
IN CLOSING …
“The conduct is horrific,” said Chelsea McNeill, S.C. eighth judicial circuit public defender and longtime board member of the Humane Society of Greenwood. “You don’t shoot at docile animals with a shotgun from 30 yards away. It’s disgusting, it’s despicable and it’s animal cruelty. That’s what this is.”
At the direction of the court, McNeill’s office represents financially indigent defendants across Greenwood, Newberry, Abbeville and Laurens County. She told FITSNews that LCSO has generated “hundreds” of animal cruelty cases since deputizing Sgt. Brown — more than any agency within her circuit.
“And because they’re trying to prosecute my clients, I’m interested in what they are doing,” McNeill said. “And if they are acting in a way that is kosher, okay. But if they are acting in a criminal manner themselves, then their credibility is shot and that needs to be exposed to juries.”
Following her 11-month investigation into the canine shooting incident, McNeill concluded that Brown and Byrd are — at a minimum — guilty of felonious animal cruelty. Her case in point? That a civilian would be arrested for doing the exact same thing under the exact same circumstance.
“Yes, they should be charged,” declared McNeill. “And yes, they should be defendants. And yes, they should be arrested … And yes, they should go through the public humiliation of having their names slandered in the news — just like they slander other people in the news for far less than what they have done.”
As with any agency accused of misconduct, we reached out to LCSO and informed them of the videos and incident reports within our possession. Despite our requests for explanation and comment — sent on November 15, 2023 — our outlet received no response.
Within that timeframe, FITSNews visited the LCSO and county animal shelter twice. We unhurriedly filmed among squad cars and deputized personnel for the exhaustive video portion of this report. Even then, not a word from beyond the badge.
“If you stand by your officers actions, then I think you would come out and say something,” concluded McNeill. “But the fact that you’re remaining silent means that you know that you f*** up.”
If you know of cases similar to this one in your community that deserve investigative scrutiny, please reach out to this media outlet. We’re not only committed to exposing nefarious activity within government — but compelled to hold our public servants as accountable as they hold the public.
UPDATE | Since publishing this article, Laurens County sheriff Don Reynolds has assailed FITSNews on Facebook, fired LCSO sergeant Geoffrey Brown, and announced his re-election campaign with primary opposition.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Andrew Fancher is a Lone Star Emmy award-winning journalist from Dallas, Texas. Cut from a bloodline of outlaws and lawmen alike, he was the first of his family to graduate college which was accomplished with honors. Got a story idea or news tip for Andy? Email him directly and connect with him socially across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
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