Bad blood between Leon, Harpo?

Looking for something else, I happened to run into this old story from 1991. It's from Leon Lott's Miami Vice days as head of the narcotics squad of the sheriff's department. As many of you will remember, back then Leon had a rep as a bit of a cowboy (in addition to Sonny Crockett, Dirty Harry was invoked) who liked to kick down doors and drive hot, confiscated cars.

But what I had forgotten was that Dick Harpootlian — who was quoted in today's story being critical of Leon on behalf of his client, busted in connection with the Michael Phelps investigation — had such a beef with Leon back then, when Dick was the solicitor. Interesting back story. Don't miss the classic quote at the end from Leon: "I love narcotics." (OK, so maybe that's a little out of context.):

          THE STATE

NARCOTICS CHIEF SAYS
POLITICS COST HIM JOB

Published on: 03/09/1991
Section: METRO/REGION
Edition: FINAL
Page: 1B
By TWILA DECKER and JOHN ALLARD, Staff Writers
Illustration: Photo, bw

Caption: Lott to be reassigned

Richland County's vice Capt. Leon Lott, often compared to "Miami Vice" character Sonny Crockett, will be transferred out of the job he loves after criticism by 5th Circuit Solicitor Dick Harpootlian.

Harpootlian asked a circuit judge last week to void a deal made by Lott a year ago that dismissed charges against a father-and-son drug-dealing team, Fabian and Enrique Valencia, in exchange for information about drug deals in South Carolina.

Harpootlian said the deal, which hasn't resulted in any arrests in this state, never should have been made. Judge Carol Connor is still considering whether she'll void the agreement.

"I think the conduct of Capt. Lott in the Valencia case . . . gave rise to serious questions about his judgment," Harpootlian said. "He let two of the county's biggest drug dealers go free."

Surprisingly, Sheriff Allen Sloan, who had strained relations with Lott last year and threatened to move him to the burglary division, has come to Lott's defense and says the move has nothing to do with the Valencia case.

"That deal was sanctioned by (former 5th Circuit) Solicitor Jim Anders," Sloan said. "Leon thought it was a good idea, and he still thinks it was a good deal. I back the boy 100 percent."

Sloan said Lott has expressed enthusiasm about his new responsibilities as captain of administration and believes that it's time to move on after nine years of heading the narcotics division.

But a somber Lott, who said he had no choice but to accept the new job because he has three children and a wife to support, gave a different account of the move late Thursday night.

Lott said Harpootlian gave Sloan an ultimatum: Get rid of Lott or there would be "major problems" between the Sheriff's Department and the solicitor's office.

Harpootlian denies pressuring Sloan.

"It's unfortunate that Leon views everything in this sinister way," Harpootlian said. "That might be the way it works in the world of narcotics, but this is the world of professionals.

"It's the sheriff's prerogative to organize his office in a way that's going to be most conducive to a good working relationship."

Sloan said Lott will be in charge of training, the DARE program, drug testing of applicants and officers and recruiting and hiring. He also will be in charge of seeking grants.

Deputy Chief Fred Riddle, who, unlike Lott, dresses conservatively in a suit and tie each day, will have the narcotics division added to his responsibilities.

"This will assure a daily account of everything they do," Sloan said. "But I am not in the least bit discouraged or unpleased with Leon's performance."

Riddle, who will be Lott's supervisor, will continue to be in charge of investigations and administration.

Lott also was criticized by Harpootlian and several defense lawyers for failing to monitor his drug agents' deals, spending $18,000 on a Mustang chase car and requiring his officers to meet quotas.

"This constant pressure to meet quotas means quantity takes precedence over quality, which means you arrest someone in whatever way you can," said Leigh Leventis, a Columbia attorney.

"Unless you have assets to turn over or agree to work for them as a snitch, they say you're going to prison. The system has allowed all kinds of abuses," Leventis said.

But Lott denies enforcing a quota, saying the number of arrests varies from month to month. He also said in a recent interview that he keeps close watch on his 26 narcotics agents to make sure they're following the law.

"I control narcotics with an iron fist over my guys. I try to be aware of everything that goes on. They have high intensity to work and perform," Lott said. "We're out there working our butts off to do something about the drug problem."

Lott, who was voted South Carolina Law Enforcement Association officer of the year in 1989, said work has been the focus of his life.

"I love narcotics. I don't know what I would do if I was transferred," Lott said last month.

9 thoughts on “Bad blood between Leon, Harpo?

  1. Workin' Tommy C

    Any chance that local governments will become interested first in finding and prosecuting violent felons again?
    As far as I’m concerned, that’s the priority. The “War on Drugs” has been the biggest fascist boondoggle in law enforcement–all at the behest of the intrusive Federal government.
    All the Federal government has to do is stop the drugs at the borders and ports and they don’t do that so that corporate slaves can continue to enter and undercut American citizens.
    (90+% of the illegal drugs come over the Mexican border–including drugs originating from the Middle East. Strange, all the laws are already in place to secure the border. Fascist Bush didn’t enforce them and it looks like Fascist Obama won’t either.)

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  2. bud

    Lott is an imbecile. He wastes taxpayer money on tanks and irresponsible vendettas against gold medal swimmers. All because of his fetish against drugs. He should be defeated in his next run for sheriff.

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  3. bud

    News flash Tommy. Leon Lott works for Richland County not, I repeat not the Federal Government. If you’re going to write stuff try to at least make some tiny bit of sense.

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  4. bud

    Lott is an imbecile. He wastes taxpayer money on tanks and irresponsible vendettas against gold medal swimmers. All because of his fetish against drugs. He should be defeated in his next run for sheriff.

    Reply
  5. Workin' Tommy C

    Bud wrote: “News flash Tommy. Leon Lott works for Richland County not, I repeat not the Federal Government. If you’re going to write stuff try to at least make some tiny bit of sense.”
    Do you think that perhaps Lott’s career was enabled by the Federal government’s War on Drugs?
    In any case, I never said Lott worked for the Federal government. I did imply that the Federal government was INTRUDING on local matters with law enforcement (by dangling all sorts of financial incentives before them to gain their compliance).
    Otherwise, I’ll admit, I went on a bit of a tangent–so what?

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  6. Doug Ross

    The fact that under South Carolina law Phelps could serve up to 30 days in jail for what he did is ridiculous.
    The only people who should be in jail are those who steal or cause physical harm to another person.
    You want to punish people for smoking dope? Give them a fine and be done with it.

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  7. Birch Barlow

    Easy there bud and Tommy, no need to get worked up.
    The Federal Government does enable idiots like Lott by subsidizing the purchase of tanks and other military-grade weapons with deep discounts. But that’s another issue…
    Is it really necessary to have a dozen officers bust down the door and raid a house with their guns drawn to get a dopey kid with 6 grams of pot? That action unnecessarily puts lives in danger all for a misdemeanor crime. Where’s the common sense?

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  8. Bart

    Awwwww, let’em go at it Birch. I read Tommy’s post and he never said Lott worked for the Federal government. Even this conservative understood what Tommy was saying.
    See what happens when you partake of one joint too many? Slow reactions and loss of the ability to comprehend what you read. :)

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  9. Joe Pinner

    I DARE say that most of the criticism Sheriff Lott has had piled on him by attorneys for the defense and the common man is by those who have smoked pot or partake today and feel a warm connection to Phelps in the way that those charged with DUI want a jury trial as most jurors would have that warm connection and say to themselves, “that could be me”. Geez, people…Leon Lott is a law enforcement officer who enforces laws. If you don’t like the laws, try to get them changed. And why do people need to involve themselves with something that takes control and endangers their lives and the lives of others? I defy anyone to give me a reason that makes any sense at all when the news is filled with evidence of lives ruined by giving control over to a weed or being drugged by alcohol. Anyone! BTW, I did learn what a “bong” is…WOW! Cheers…Joe…who does have a glass of wine with a meal only at home, perhaps once or twice a month.

    Reply

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