Newberry Co. Sheriff’s Office reports reveal new events & allegations leading up to lawmaker’s indictments

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Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 6:26 PM EST
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NEWBERRY COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - A 2020 incident report from the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office lays out allegations that a Midlands state house representative potentially committed criminal sexual conduct against his foster daughter.

Rep. Rick Martin (R-Newberry) is not facing any charges for the sexual allegations in the report. However, the same report alleges he gave the girl alcohol.

He is facing an indictment over that accusation and is suspended from his public office while the case is pending.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced two indictments in December against Martin alleging he provided alcohol to the girl and for attempting to influence an S.C. Department of Social Services investigation. Wilson’s office later alleged that it involved threatening department leadership.

RELATED | Midlands State Rep. charged with providing alcohol to minor, misconduct in office

The Allegations

During a Dec. 14, 2021 arraignment hearing in Newberry County, Assistant Attorney General Kinli Abee alleged Martin threatened DSS Director Michael Leach and the department’s legislative liaison, threatening Leach’s job and the department budget.

RELATED | Newberry lawmaker pleads not guilty on misconduct charges, granted bond

Abee also alleged Martin provided his then-16-year-old foster daughter with wine coolers to drink.

Martin pleaded not guilty to both indictments and requested jury trials.

In the arraignment hearing, Abee told the judge the situation began in Dec. 2019 when law enforcement went to Martin’s home over an “unrelated issue.”

As a result of the incident, she said “all of the children” were removed from Martin’s home by the DSS. Martin’s statehouse webpage states he has four children and has been a foster parent since 2010.

Abee stated Martin began calling DSS leadership on Dec. 6, 2019. She said a recorded phone call with Leach and a voicemail to the liaison demanded the return of the children.

She said once the children were removed, the then-16-year-old disclosed that in Jan. 2019 Martin provided her with wine coolers while his wife, Frances, was in New York.

In the aftermath of the arraignment, WIS requested all Newberry County Sheriff’s incident reports and supplemental incident reports which involved Martin.

These reports include deputy descriptions of potential crime scenes after they arrive and their actions upon arrival.

Among the documents was a report dated April 18, 2020. It outlines how a new guardian of the girl contacted law enforcement to report an incident that allegedly happened on Jan. 4, 2019.

The Newberry County sergeant writing the report classified the incident as potentially criminal sexual conduct with a minor.

He recounted the details that the new guardian alleged about the girl’s time with Martin.

In his narrative, the sergeant referred to various individuals in law enforcement terms. He referred to Martin as the subject, the new guardian of the girl as the complainant, and the girl as the victim. WIS has inserted the names with brackets for easier understanding.

Below is a portion of the narrative.

The [guardian] stated the [girl] told (redacted) that while in the care of [Martin] and [Martin’s] wife, that [Martin] drank a lot. The [girl] told the [guardian] that on or around January 4, 2019 [Martin] gave the [girl] some alcohol. The [girl] stated (redacted) blacked out and woke up with a strange feeling in her private area. The [girl] further told the [guardian] she went to the bathroom and there was blood in (redacted).

The [guardian] also stated that (redacted) believes [Martin] has started texting the [girl] using his [Martin’s] (redacted) phone. The [girl] has received several text messages from [Martin] (redacted) phone. One in which [Martin’s] (redacted) texted the victim stating that was (redacted) texting. The [girl] also told the [guardian] [Martin] has referred to his penis in front of the [girl] as a shrimp and is now text her shrimp emoji’s.

The sergeant’s narrative states the new guardian told him the SC Department of Social Services removed the girl from the Martins’ care on Dec. 5, 2019.

He also wrote Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster contacted Chief Mark Keel of SLED, and it was handed off to that department.

WIS contacted Attorney General’s office, SLED and the DSS about the sexual conduct allegations.

WIS asked a spokesperson for the AG’s office about why the sexual allegations were not present in the indictments. The spokesperson sent a statement reading:

“Charges were brought after SLED conducted a thorough investigation.”

The DSS and SLED declined to comment.

November 2019 Incident

It’s unclear what the “unrelated issue” Abee referred to in the arraignment hearing is.

The Newberry County Sheriff’s Office reports include an incident from Nov. 1, 2019 involving Frances Martin, Rick’s wife.

The deputy writing the report classified the incident as potentially domestic violence and assault & battery. No prosecution resulted from the report.

The deputy noted there were no visible injuries to any of the alleged victims involved.

The deputy wrote he responded at 11 p.m. on Nov. 1, 2019 in reference to an ongoing verbal domestic situation. Frances is the “subject” of the report.

It is not clear from the report who the other actors are.

It states: Complainant/victim 1 immediately showed deputy a video of subject attempting to drag victim 2 out of the residence. [Complainant/victim 2] advised that as (redacted) was at his (redacted) house, (redacted) heard screaming come from incident location. [Complainant/victim 1] advised (redacted) saw subject grabbing on victim 2 around the neck/upper body region. [Complainant/victim 1] had victim 2 get (redacted) things and exit the residence to go across the street. As [complainant/victim 1] was exiting the residence, subject jumped on (redacted) and attacked (redacted) [complainant/victim 1] also advised that as (redacted) was outside, subject grabbed (redacted) and pushed (redacted) down the stairs. [Complainant/victim 1] advised that subject has been acting irate quite often recently.

Victim 2 advised that after (redacted) left the football game, [complainant/victim 1] told (redacted) that subject had started to go off on (redacted) again. Victim 2 advised that (redacted) and subject began to argue because victim 2 was tired of the mess. Victim 2 advised that subject had began to advance towards (redacted) while (redacted) was in (redacted) room so victim 2 picked up a small fan to possibly defend (redacted) subject then grabbed victim 2 and began dragging (redacted) out of the room. Victim 2 advised (redacted) was attempting to push subject off of (redacted) while yelling and cursing. Subject dragged victim 2 down the stairs into the foyer. During this time victim 2 was still trying to get away from subject. Victim 2 ended up braking subject’s glasses and a flower pot.

Subject advised that she has had enough of victim 2 beating up on her so when victim 2 began to show out and curse and yell, she told victim 2 to go ahead and get out. Subject advised that victim 2 was moving too slow so she began to walk towards victim 2 to walk (redacted) out the house. That’s when victim 2 picked up the fan and hit subject with it. Subject advised that she did grab victim 2 and was carrying (redacted) out of the residence when [complainant/victim 1] showed up.

[Complainant/victim 1] just want subject to be separated from them for night. [Complainant/victim 1]’s (redacted) advised that subject had to leave out of (redacted) residence because (redacted) did not want (redacted) there. [Complainant/victim 1] was advised that subject could stay at their residence and (redacted) along with the (redacted) could stay with (redacted) if they would like. Subject was advised of (redacted) verbal trespass notice. Pictures were taken and victim form was filled out on both victims.

A Nov. 2, 2019 supplemental incident report written by a different deputy states the responding deputy did not see any injuries on either Frances or “victim 1.”

The new deputy wrote the video recording did not show a clear assault, but did show Frances slap the phone out of “victim 1′s” hands.

The new deputy wrote “victim 1″ did not want Frances prosecuted.

A third deputy wrote a second supplemental incident report on Nov. 5, 2019.

He wrote the report was sent to Deputy Solicitor Dale Scott for review of possible criminal charges.

The third deputy wrote he was told by the complainant (”victim 1″) that Frances received professional medical and counseling assistance in the aftermath of the incident.

The complainant re-iterated a desire for Frances to not be prosecuted.

The third deputy writes after learning that information and speaking with Scott, no charges will be filed.

The DSS sent a statement in relation to Martin’s foster parent status reading:

Richard Martin and Francis Martin are no longer licensed as foster parents. There have been no foster placements in the home since December 2019 and their foster home license expired in May of 2021.

The WIS attempts to contact Frances Martin were unsuccessful. Newberry County court records show Frances has only ever faced traffic violation cases.

Martin’s Defense

S.C. House of Representatives Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) represents Martin in the criminal case.

Rutherford strongly denied the allegations of giving a minor alcohol, of sexual misconduct/texting in the report, and of trying to influence a DSS investigation.

He described Martin as having a “huge heart, and unfortunately, that heart is what has come back to bite him.”

Rutherford said the Martin’s have adopted several children and were in the process of adopting the 16-year-old girl, despite a troubled past.

He said the girl was removed from her biological family and a prior foster family over misconduct allegations, including sexual misconduct.

“Children come into the foster care system because they have troubled pasts, they don’t come in there because they came from the best household in the world and now they are entering foster care,” he said. “It’s not like a lottery system where you’ve won and you’re now in foster care and because of that the Martin’s take kids in and if they’ve had problems, [the Martin’s] feel like it is their obligation and their job to deal with those problems.”

Rutherford was unable to provide specific dates, but laid out a sequence of events leading up to the allegations in the April 2020 report.

Rutherford said while the 16-year-old girl was in the Martin home, Frances Martin took the girl’s phone.

He said the girl responded by alleging Frances beat her. He said those allegations were made in Dec. 2019 and she was removed from the home in the same month.

Rutherford said Abee’s comments that “all” of the children were removed from the home is not true.

He said the then-16-year-old was interviewed about her allegations against Frances Martin.

“So DSS comes in and they interview this child about what was going on in the home. She mentioned nothing about the alleged [alcohol and sexual conduct] incident that happened in January of 2019,” he said.

Rutherford also alleged the DSS began talking to other children in Martin’s care because of the beating allegations.

He said repeated DSS interviews made one child so upset, the child threatened suicide at school.

“[Martin] had to come pick up that child or that child would be placed in handcuffs and taken to the hospital. He blew his top as any father would,” he said.

Rutherford said Martin did call Leach and the liaison.

“Telling him, if this is the way you run an agency you don’t need to be here anymore,” he said.

But Rutherford said Martin’s comments and power in state government do not rise to the legal definition of “threat.”

“Mr. Martin had no ability to follow through on his ability to take this guy’s job within two days. He can’t fire him,” he said.

The DSS is a cabinet agency and directors serve at the pleasure of the governor once sworn in.

WIS asked Rutherford if Martin threatened the DSS budget. Legislators do have the power to craft state budgets.

“Even if the House of Representatives totally defunds DSS’s budget, takes their entire budget away. The director would still have a job, and they’d still have the senate to put all that money back in if they chose to. So, however much power he had, if it was penultimate amount of power in the state house of representatives, he still cannot do what he threatened to do,” he said.

Martin is not on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which drives budget decisions in the House of Representatives.

Rutherford said in April 2020, the former foster daughter texted Frances Martin about getting her boyfriend’s jersey.

He said Frances could not find her boyfriend’s jersey and subsequently, the April 2020 report about January 2019 surfaced.

“[The AG’s office] didn’t have a clerk that sold [Martin] wine coolers, a receipt where he bought wine coolers, it is not what Mr. Martin drinks, it is not anything that he served her on that night, and again it’s an allegation that came up a year and a half later,” he said.

He also stated the family is in possession of Rick Martin’s cell phone involved in the sexual allegations and can disprove the sexual claims made in the report.

Rutherford said the Nov. 2019 incident involving Frances Martin did not precipitate the case, and the former foster daughter was not involved in that incident.

However, he did state it was Rick Martin who called law enforcement over the incident.

“When these things come up, this is a family that doesn’t mind having somebody come in and take a look at any allegation that is made,” he said.

Rutherford repeatedly accused Attorney General Alan Wilson of using the case for political gain.

“Every AG likes to put a target on legislators backs, and make it so they’re cleaning up the swamp as Donald Trump said it,” he said.

He went on to state:

“They’ve now arrested a man, had him suspended from his position in public office, caused strife in his home because of an allegation that was made a year and after it allegedly happened with no proof that it happened,” he said.

Online court records do not yet show when Martin will be back in court.

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