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Ex-Lancaster Co. sheriff pleads guilty to damaging neighbor’s home

Former Lancaster County Sheriff John “Johnny” Cauthen, right, pleaded guilty Thursday to damaging a neighbor’s home in Rock Hill last year by shooting items at it with a slingshot. He received a suspended sentence of 18 months probation and restitution. Seen next to Cauthen is his attorney, Francis Bell.
Former Lancaster County Sheriff John “Johnny” Cauthen, right, pleaded guilty Thursday to damaging a neighbor’s home in Rock Hill last year by shooting items at it with a slingshot. He received a suspended sentence of 18 months probation and restitution. Seen next to Cauthen is his attorney, Francis Bell. tkulmala@heraldonline.com

Former Lancaster County Sheriff John “Johnny” Cauthen will avoid seeing the inside of a jail cell after pleading guilty Thursday to damaging a neighbor’s Rock Hill home with a slingshot last year.

Cauthen, 59, pleaded guilty to malicious injury to property more than $2,000 but less than $10,000, a felony. In exchange for the plea, the state dismissed a charge of malicious injury to property less than $2,000.

Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III sentenced Cauthen to three years in prison suspended to 18 months’ probation and $1,000 restitution, which Cauthen has already paid.

Cauthen entered an Alford plea, meaning he maintained his innocence but admitted the state still had sufficient evidence to convict him.

“I really don’t have a good explanation, sir,” Cauthen said before sentencing. “I really don’t. I ask for forgiveness and to go forward with my life. I apologize.”

Former Lancaster Sheriff Johnny Cauthen took an Alford plea on felony property damage charge Thursday in a York County courtroom. He was charged with shooting pellets, marbles and paintballs at his Rock Hill neighbors' property.

Police responded to a Rock Hill home on June 6, 2014, after a woman saw Cauthen damaging her home, Assistant Solicitor Daniel Porter said during Thursday’s hearing.

“She said she heard something hitting the outside of her house, retrieved a gun and looked outside,” Porter said, “at which point she saw the defendant shooting something from his house to her home.”

A search warrant executed July 3, 2014, revealed a slingshot and “slingshot ammunition” around the home, the damage of which was estimated at $4,000, Porter said. A second neighbor reported damage to her Kia Sorento.

Both victims, neither of whom were present in court Thursday, agreed to the plea, Porter said.

Cauthen’s attorney, Francis Bell, noted Cauthen was elected sheriff of Lancaster County for three terms, serving from 1997 to 2009. Bell said his client “underwent some problems” during his last term that included post-traumatic stress after being present when a sheriff’s deputy was injured by a gunshot. After retiring, he moved from Lancaster County to Rock Hill.

“There was really nothing going on between my client and the adults,” Bell said. “There was something maybe going on with some young people that had a connection with somebody and it led to, potentially, these issues coming up involving damage to real estate.”

Bell said his client “cooperated too much” with Rock Hill police, even showing officers his slingshot.

“On that day, he was asked and he said, ‘I can’t say I did it, but I won’t say I didn’t do it,’” Bell quoted Cauthen as saying.

Bell also noted Cauthen’s appearance, which included wearing an eye patch and walking with a cane. He told the court Cauthen was hit by a car while riding his motorcycle on U.S. 21 and suffered multiple injuries, including a concussion, broken bones and damage to one of his eyes. Cauthen still takes medication for the injuries, he said.

“He cannot give you an explanation any more than he can give me (an explanation),” Bell said. “... There’s really no good explanation for it.”

Teddy Kulmala •  803-329-4082

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