When I was sworn in as Sheriff, I made a promise to the people of this county that I would work tirelessly to clean up crime in Laurens County, and would also give special attention to cleaning up another critical area - the Laurens County Sheriff's Office evidence facility. One of the first calls I made once in office was to SLED for a full evidence inventory. This issue has been featured in the news, has been talked about in our community, and has been identified by all as a problem that would require an incredible amount of attention to correct. Evidence and the evidence facility had been overlooked, mistreated, and misguided for decades. My promise to make this agency professional in appearance and action required having people in key positions who understand the vision and who can be trusted completely. One such individual is Sgt. James "Butch" Kimbrell, a law enforcement officer with well over 40 years of experience under his belt. Sgt. Kimbrell and I spent many years together at the South Carolina Highway Patrol and I knew he was up to the task of achieving that level of professionalism. The attention and level of detail he gives to his duties are unmatchable and unwavering, so the decision came easy when tasking him with being the CSI/Evidence supervisor.
Sgt. Kimbrell's duties focus on evidence placed in temporary holding lockers, vehicles in an impound yard, and an entire facility of bags, boxes, and containers. Evidence includes everything from DNA swabs and guns to recovered stereos and even items as small and seemingly insignificant as a cigarette lighter found at a crime scene. In addition to recording, storing and accounting for evidence comes the responsibility of its proper disposal from cases that have been finalized in court and adjudicated. The adherence to strict policies, procedures and documentation is a must to ensure the proper final disposition of these cases, proving to be a very tedious and daunting task. Sgt. Kimbrell and his team eventually touch every single item placed into evidence to maintain their integrity for each case that goes to a courtroom. This is one of the most critical, yet often unseen and underappreciated jobs in all of law enforcement. Sgt. Kimbrell has supervised the complete overhaul of the evidence system from the ground up, starting with building security and working his way through updating policies, collection methods, cataloging, and disposal methods since his arrival in January, 2017.
Last Thursday, March 14, 2019, while carrying out his daily duties of clearing out temporary evidence lockers, cataloging evidence, and supervising the crime scene investigations, Sgt. Kimbrell spent the latter part of his day examining evidence from years past and disposing of those items that have long since gone through the court system. Officers speak with Sgt. Kimbrell daily about cases worked many years prior, some which predate every single employee of the Sheriff’s Office. When Sgt. Kimbrell came across case number 94007648, which was a burglary, he identified a sealed cardboard box with the case number written on the outside located on a top shelf in a rear room of the evidence facility (the old county jail). Sgt. Kimbrell opened the box to examine the unknown contents and found it filled with personal items including a class ring from the 60's, an old pocket watch, several merit pins and other items that would have belonged in someone's jewelry box.
Since the case pre-dated the electronic reporting system, Sgt. Kimbrell had to go to the records office and hand search the case number. After finding the case, he determined that the items had been taken during a burglary in mid-July in 1994, with the only address providing only an old rural route box number with no street information. During his research of the case, Sgt. Kimbrell also determined an arrest was made in the case around the time of its occurrence, and that the property had been recovered by an investigator and identified as belonging to the victim. Further research identified a rather disappointing letter written by an administrative assistant that simply stated the victim had contacted the Sheriff’s Office about having his items returned to him, but according to the report, the evidence had been lost. Sgt. Kimbrell compared the recovered items to the list attached to the report and was able to match the list of items to those in the box.
After speaking to the victim over the phone, hearing the story and the victim’s desire to travel to the Sheriff’s Office to receive his property, Sgt. Kimbrell decided another day didn’t need to pass and proceeded to locate the victim, who still lives in Laurens County, on his own time after his shift had ended. He notified me of what he had found and stated that he was on the way to the victim's home with the property that had been misplaced for almost a quarter of a century. He was able to deliver the property to the victim, who immediately put on the class ring (now fitting his pinky rather than his ring finger) and his wife quickly removed a pocket watch over a century old from the box that belonged to her father. She was also happy to find handwritten personal papers and her birthstone ring.
While people often give me credit for the work the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office is doing, it is the men and women who work hard every day to provide quality law enforcement to the citizens of this county who deserve the praise. No coach ever wins a game without a solid, balanced team and the Sheriff’s Office is no different. So, rest assured that though you may never see or know of all the innerworkings of this office, there is a team of hardworking professionals who put their very lives on the line daily with little recognition taking care of business.