Crime

Ex-Lancaster sheriff Cauthen accused of taking gun, laptop from former job

A former Lancaster County sheriff was arrested Tuesday on claims that he took a gun and laptop from his former job and never returned them.

John Walter “Johnny” Cauthen, 58, has been charged with breach of trust with fraudulent intent after he allegedly carried off items belonging to the sheriff’s office after his term as sheriff came to an end.

Cauthen was booked into the Lancaster County Detention Center after an investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division. The charge is a misdemeanor that could carry a 30-day jail sentence or a $1,000 fine.

This is the second time this year Cauthen has been on the other side of the criminal justice system. In July, Cauthen was arrested in Rock Hill after his neighbors claimed he fired slingshot pellets, marbles and paintballs at their house and car.

He was charged with one count of malicious damage to property over $2,000 and one count of damage to personal property, $2,000 or less. No court date has been set in that case.

It was while searching Cauthen’s home during that incident that Rock Hill Police discovered a Glock .40-caliber Model 22 pistol valued at $422 and a Panasonic laptop computer valued at $1,250, both of which were marked as property of the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office. That began an investigation into how the items came to be in Cauthen’s possession.

“Rock Hill contacted Lancaster County about these items, and they asked us to investigate,” said SLED spokesman Thom Berry.

Cauthen was sheriff of Lancaster County from 1997 until 2009, when he retired. He was booked Tuesday at the Lancaster County Detention Center and released on a personal recognizance bond of $1,092.50.

It’s unknown if the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office was aware the department property, including a service weapon, was missing prior to its discovery by Rock Hill Police. Attempts to reach current Sheriff Barry Faile or an office spokesman Wednesday were unsuccessful.

When contacted, Cauthen declined to comment on the advice of his attorney. Francis Bell of the Bell Law Firm in Lancaster said his client plans to enter a plea of not guilty. Bell questioned whether the allegations fall under the breach of trust statute and has filed a motion of discovery for the state’s evidence.

“I’ve got to see why they think it was breach of trust,” Bell said. “They’ve got to show he had criminal intent. That’s why we go through the process of gathering evidence.”

A court date in the case hasn’t been set, and it’s unclear who will handle the case. SLED could hand the case over to the solicitor’s office or, because the case is a misdemeanor, Berry said the SLED agent investigating the case could act as the prosecutor.

“It’s just like a traffic violation, when the police officer has to be there in court,” Berry said.

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