COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott took to his lectern on Monday, his facial expression immediately expressed concern.
In the last six weeks, Richland County has launched investigations for 11 murders. Of those, seven took place in what he called “Deadly December” while four have happened this month alone.
“I shake my head and just ask why and how,” Lott said as he addressed the media. “Can we stop some of the killing that we’ve got in our community?”
According to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, there were 22 murders in 2020, which is one more than what was recorded in 2019. There were 27 murders in Richland County in 2018.
Lott noted that one of the murders was gang-related while three others happened during domestic disputes. Lott also said that RCSD noticed that a lot of the murders do involve drug-related criminal activity.
“It’s sad that we’ve got that many families in our community that are suffering over needless violence,” Lott said. “A gun was a common denominator in just about all of them.”
So far, RCSD has arrested 19 people in connection with the murders that happened in 2020. Among those who were arrested were four juveniles -- two 17-year-olds and two 16-year-olds at the time of the incidents.
However, Richland County deputies are working to close each one of the remaining cases they have.
One of the murder suspects RCSD is searching for is James Toatley, who is wanted for two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder after a shooting at Motor City Market on Fairfield Road. Officials said Toatley shot into a vehicle with four passengers and ran from the scene.
The U.S. Marshals Service is searching for Toatley on a federal probation warrant and is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. Authorities have said Toatley has ties to friends and family in several states.
“We’ve got good leads on that,” Lott said. “We’re going to solve them. That’s not the issue. It’s [not] solving these murders and putting these people in jail. It’s preventing them. That’s what we’ve got to work even harder on doing.”
In an effort to combat the violent crimes in Richland County, the sheriff’s department has combined its school resource officers with its Youth Services Division as part of the department’s diversionary program which works with young people in the community to steer them away from gun violence.
“We’re losing too many young people to violence,” Lott said. “So, we’ve got to do more on addressing the prevention side at an early age.”
If you have any information about these murders, please contact Crimestoppers in one of the following ways:
PHONE TIP — Call the toll free number at 1-888-CRIME-SC (888-274-6372).
WEB TIP — Go to www.midlandscrimestoppers.com and click “Submit a Tip”.
MOBILE TIP — Download the new P3 Tips app on your Apple or Android Device.
You can provide information anonymously through Midlands Crime Stoppers. Your tip could earn you a cash reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for this crime.