By Ted Clifford
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RICHLAND COUNTY, S.C. — A Richland County sheriff’s deputy was hospitalized after a fleeing suspect backed into her with a car, pinning the deputy against her patrol vehicle.
Special Response Team Operator Sarah Merriman suffered head and body injuries after being struck by the stolen vehicle, the sheriff’s department said. Jamon Cheatham, 17, the alleged driver of the vehicle, is being charged with attempted murder.
Around 10 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9, Merriman was responding to a report of a stolen vehicle in the Dentsville area, according to a statement released by the sheriff’s department. Video footage showed deputies surrounding a white Ford sedan, which had pulled into a parking spot at 6908 Two Notch Road. Merriman had just exited her cruiser when the Ford quickly reversed, crushing the deputy between the two cars.
Another deputy quickly boxed Cheatham in with his car, and Merriman was taken to the hospital. Cheatham, who is being charged as an adult, was also charged with failure to stop for blue lights, committing a hit and run, and possession of a stolen vehicle.
At a press conference Wednesday, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott criticized the court’s decision to grant a $150,000 bond for Cheatham. Were Cheatham to retain the services of a bail bondsman, he could post 10% of the total amount or as little as $25 (the minimum under state law that can be paid to a bondsman), according to Lott.
“What price tag would you put on a deputy’s life?” Lott questioned. “I found out today it’s not very much.”
Cheatham had not yet made bond as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Lott.
However, Lott expressed frustration that bond was set at all, stating that Cheatham had been previously charged with attempted murder and describing him as a flight risk who had failed to show up for Juvenile Justice Court.
“This is a crack in our justice system that’s got to be fixed,” said Lott, who described Cheatham as having an extensive juvenile record.
Merriman is a K-9 handler for the sheriff’s department’s Special Response Team. She joined the sheriff’s office in 2018.
In April 2022, Merriman received an award for distinguished community policing from the United States Attorney General’s Office after convincing a suspect to drop his shotgun during a domestic violence incident. She was the first South Carolina officer to receive the award, the sheriff’s office said at the time.
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