AP Exclusive: Woman discusses alleged assault by deputy

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Posted: Jul 20, 2016 5:52 PM
AP Exclusive: Woman discusses alleged assault by deputy

ORANGEBURG, S.C. (AP) — For more than a month, a South Carolina woman has struggled with the burden of worrying if anyone would believe her harrowing allegation: a law officer forced her to perform a sex act, saying that he'd arrest her boyfriend if she refused.

On Wednesday, the woman's attorney says she got at least some relief, as state police arrested the now former deputy on a felony charge of misconduct in office, which carries up to 10 years in prison in the event of a conviction.

The Associated Press recently sat down with the woman and her boyfriend, who live in a single-wide mobile home in rural Orangeburg County, not far from Interstate 95 about midway between South Carolina's capital city and the coast.

The AP isn't identifying the couple due to the allegations of sexual abuse. But, in an exclusive interview, they described their chilling experience, saying they hoped to shed light on an abuse of power scenario they wouldn't wish on anyone.

Early the morning of June 12, the woman's boyfriend called authorities after a fight over a social media posting got heated. Two sheriff's deputies responded, according to an incident report, separating the couple and getting statements from each one, as is standard practice.

A sworn deputy was outside with the boyfriend. A deputy who hadn't yet completed the state's criminal justice academy training course — a trainee officer since identified as Dereck Johnson — was inside with the woman.

Once they were alone, the woman says, Johnson gave her the ultimatum: unless she performed oral sex on him, he would take her boyfriend to jail.

"I started crying," she recalled, fighting back tears as she recalls the memory. "I kept begging him, 'No, no.' He said, 'If you don't do it, you're going to jail, too.'"

For the next four minutes, with her 16-year-old daughter sleeping in a bedroom nearby, the woman says Johnson said nothing as he forced her into oral sex. When it was over, she says, he left her in the house and walked up to her boyfriend, smiling.

"He looked me in the eye and shook my hand," the boyfriend recalled. "Who does that?"

The officers left, and the woman was inconsolable. After being filled in, her boyfriend persuaded her to call the authorities again, and a third officer came to take her statement. Seeing the uniformed deputy arrive, they said, was difficult, given what they'd just been through.

In sexual assault cases, it's standard for law enforcement to suggest alleged victims seek immediate medical care, so any evidence can be collected and health concerns addressed. Not only did that not happen, says state Rep. Justin Bamberg, the couple's attorney, but no victim advocate called to offer the woman counseling options.

"If it wasn't an officer, I believe that things would have been handled differently," Bamberg said. "She was not treated as the victim that she was."

"What this is about is the powerful taking advantage of the powerless," Bamberg said. "You've got a badge, a set of handcuffs ... You are extremely powerful. Who do you call for help when the police are the ones that terrorize you?"

A day after the alleged assault, Sheriff Leroy Ravenell fired Johnson and referred the case to state police, who investigated for more than a month. In an affidavit released Wednesday, the State Law Enforcement Division said Johnson "received oral sex from the female victim" and had "provided a sworn statement with the above details."

During a bond hearing, a judge set a September trial date and said Johnson, who appeared in court without a lawyer, could be released from jail on $10,000 bond.

There was no answer Wednesday at Johnson's home. In court, aside from saying he wasn't a flight risk, Johnson said little during his bond hearing.

According to Bamberg, Johnson was a sworn deputy at the time who hadn't been through training with the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. For the attorney and his clients, the question remains: How did an untrained officer come to be in such a situation?

In South Carolina, all law officers must go through a 12-week course at the academy, but they have a year from their hire date to complete it, according to academy spokeswoman Florence McCants. While the academy doesn't recommend officers do field work without property training, it's up to each agency as to what they allow untrained officers to do.

Officials with Orangeburg County were unable to provide AP with details on their protocols for trainee officers in the field or say if any mistakes were made the day of the alleged assault. In a statement, Ravenell said he supported the investigation and charges brought by state police.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/