Sheriff reverses course, acknowledges sexual harassment report amid WBTV questions

YORK COUNTY, SC (WBTV) - York County sheriff Kevin Tolson walked back statements he made Monday in which he accused a former sheriff's deputy of making false claims to damage the reputation of his office.

On Tuesday, Tolson issued a statement that, instead, acknowledged the statements he made in a Monday press conference were untrue.

WBTV has been investigating the workplace culture at the York County Sheriff's Office since August, when two deputies were fired and four others were disciplined for having sex while on duty.

One of those deputies, former Sgt. Jenny Forsythe, sat down for an exclusive interview with WBTV following her termination.

In her interview, Forsythe claimed the department has a culture where sexual harassment is rampant from male deputies to female deputies. Forsythe said female deputies can face consequences for turning out sexual advances from their male counterparts or trying to report the behavior.

"You don't snitch," Forsythe told WBTV. "If something is bothering you, you don't say anything, especially as a female. You just keep your head down and you work and you just go with it."

Forsythe also raised questions about why one of the deputies who was disciplined but not fired for having sex with her on duty had not faced a more severe punishment.

Cpt. Carson Neely admitted to having sex with Forsythe while on duty over the course of five years between 2003-2007.

But Forsythe claimed Neely made sexual advances towards her as recently as this past spring, after he called her while she was on duty to pick him up and give him a ride home because he was drunk.

"He begged me to come inside his house and have sex with him while I'm working shift," Forsythe recounted.

Forsythe said she disclosed Neely's recent advances to internal affairs investigators during two interviews earlier this summer. But neither of the written reports summarizing the interviews with Forsythe mention her claims of sexual harassment.

Tolson, the sheriff, refused to sit for an on-camera interview with WBTV but called a news conference on Monday to respond to our questions.

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Tolson denied that Forsythe ever reported the allegations regarding Neely to internal affairs.

"You've interviewed a former, terminated employee who, in my opinion, wants to mar the reputation of this office further," Tolson said.

Tolson said he only takes seriously allegations of sexual harassment from "people who make valid allegations."

But Tolson was forced to change his position on Tuesday, after WBTV requested the recorded interviews between Forsythe and internal affairs investigators.

"I do not believe I made myself clear during the press conference yesterday and I would like to take this opportunity to clear up any confusion," Tolson said in a press release sent to reporters in response to additional questions from WBTV.

"To be abundantly clear, Ms. Forsythe did state during her internal affairs interview that then Lt. Neely asked her for sex," Tolson said later in his statement. "I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight. I was inaccurate in my response to the question and make no excuses."

A spokesman for the sheriff's office has refused multiple requests from WBTV to interview Tolson following his statement acknowledging the false statements he made on Monday.

"At this time, sheriff Tolson respectfully declines to gr ant anymore interviews about this matter," a spokesman said. "The statement we provided to you should be sufficient enough."

The sheriff's attorney has said the office will make the audio recording for Forsythe's interview with internal affairs available to WBTV if Forsythe agrees to its publication.

At press time, the sheriff's attorney had not provided a statutory basis for requiring such authorization.

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