In a strong rebuke to criticism of a judge, a lawmaker said a county will be 'better off' once the sheriff is gone

KERSHAW COUNTY, SC (WIS) - It started at a traffic checkpoint near Lugoff Saturday night and ended at a nearby apartment complex with a crash and with a suspect running from the vehicle.

"Any chase is dangerous, whether it's a lengthy, high-speed pursuit or whatever," Sheriff Jim Matthews said. "It's always dangerous."

Eventually, deputies arrested the suspected driver — 22-year-old Ty'reek Bush-Robinson.

If Matthews got his way, the chase would have never happened, because the driver would have been in prison.

"He's what we call a frequent flyer. We deal with him all the time," Matthews said.

Just last year, Bush-Robinson was facing the possibility of some serious time after a string of car break-ins and gun charges. In fact, Matthews said both sides had worked out a decent plea deal that would have sent him to prison. Judge Alison Lee, however, stepped in and gave Bush-Robinson probation and credit for the time (8.5 months) he spent in county jail.

Fast forward to Saturday, when the chase and crash happened, and Matthews wasn't surprised at all.

"We want fair judges," Matthews said. "We don't think everybody should go to prison for life, but there needs to be a deterrent, and with some judges, there's not."

Matthews said criminals will keep playing the game if judges like Lee keep handing down lenient punishments.

"I wasn't surprised, to be honest with you, to see him back out on the streets. You know, once again, the sheriff's office is trying to do their job by putting him behind bars again so that the judge can feel bad about him and let him ride out on the streets again," said Geovanny Marquez.

Marquez's take is worth hearing. Records show Bush-Robinson broke into his truck back in 2016. He said lenient judges are making his community more dangerous.

"It's like they're almost on the criminal's side than they are on the victim's side. It's crazy," Marquez said.

Judge Lee's office did not respond to multiple requests for comments.

However, a number of Midlands defense attorneys – some former prosecutors – quickly came to Lee's defense. Two agreed that Lee has impeccable character and professionalism both in and out of the courtroom.

Rep. Todd Rutherford – another defense attorney – was blunter.

"[Sheriff Matthews] clearly does not know what he is talking about. Law enforcement's job is to enforce the law. He's not qualified to second-guess her," Rutherford said. "The people of Kershaw County will be much better off when a new sheriff gets elected."

Lee received a nomination in January 2014 to a U.S. federal court by former President Obama, but the nomination was withdrawn in September 2014 after opposition was raised.

As for Bush-Robinson, he has bonded out of jail, but the sheriff hopes the state will revoke his probation.

Bush-Robinson's mother, meanwhile, feels her son is being unfairly targeted by Sheriff Matthews.

"I would personally like to gain a clear understanding of what is Jim Matthews' personal issue regarding Ty'reek Bush-Robinson due to it is clearly beyond professional reasoning," Bush-Robinson's mother wrote in a statement. "Until we are able to gain a clear understanding, my family and I will continue to keep Mr. Matthews in our thoughts and prayers."

Matthews responded to Rutherford's comments on the sheriff's office's Facebook page.

"I can think of no better compliment than to have Todd Rutherford criticize me," Matthews said. "His criticism as a criminal defense attorney is a clear indication that I am doing my job!!"

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