Born in Aiken, South Carolina, in 1953, Sheriff Leon Lott attended the University of South Carolina - Aiken, earning an Associate Degree in Police Administration. He went on to attend the University of South Carolina - Columbia, earning a Bachelor Degree in Sociology and continued with graduate study for a Masters in Criminal Justice. Later, Sheriff Lott graduated from the FBI National Academy, FBI National Executive Institute, Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and Furman University's SC Diversity Leadership Academy. Sheriff Lott earned a Masters in Emergency Management from Lander University.

Sheriff Lott came to the Richland County Sheriff's Department in 1975 as a patrol officer. He advanced thereafter to various positions, including Criminal Investigator, Narcotics Agent, Lieutenant and Captain of Narcotics Division, Administrative Captain, Uniform Patrol Captain, and Watch Commander. In 1993, Sheriff Lott took the position of Chief of Police of St. Matthews, SC.

In 1996, he made a successful run for Sheriff of Richland County. Upon taking office, Sheriff Lott turned the direction of the Department to Community Oriented Policing. In July of 2018, Sheriff Lott's Department initiated OPERATION FULL ARMOR. This multi-agency under cover operation netted the arrest of 38 individuals. For more information on this operation see the attached release.


Sting operation in South Carolina nabs scores of child predators, prostitutes, sex-purchasers

Multi-Agency Task Force led by Richland County Sheriff's Department

By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

A major four-day sting operation led by Sheriff Leon Lott and the Richland County Sheriff's Dept. (RCSD) – involving multiple local, state, and federal agencies – led to the arrest of 18 persons suspected of being child predators and another 20 for prostitution in Richland County, South Carolina, in mid-July.

Dubbed OPERATION FULL ARMOR, the effort was "very successful," says Sheriff Lott. And it is ongoing.

The child predators, also known as 'travelers' because they travel from one area to the next in search of vulnerable child victims, initiated their crimes in Internet chat rooms and through various social media. "These monsters," as Lott refers to them, began communicating online with persons whom they believed were girls between the ages of 13 and 14. A few of the suspects shared pictures of themselves. Others requested pictures. Each of the suspects then traveled to what they believed was a young girl's home when the child's parents were supposedly away.

"Unfortunately for them, they didn't meet any young girls," says Lott. "The met us."

Though details are closely guarded so as to avoid providing actionable information to child predators and sex traffickers in any future operation, Lott says, "Approximately 50 officers were involved per day in this operation."

The joint mission was conducted by the RCSD-led INTERNET CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN TASK FORCE. The task force, under the operational direction of RCSD Senior Investigator Melissa Perry; was composed of RCSD, the U.S. Marshal's Service, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, the S.C. Attorney General's office, the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina, and seven other sheriff's departments or offices within the state.

"The United States Attorney's office remains in lock-step with local, state, and federal agencies that comprise this ongoing partnership," says U.S. Attorney Sherri A. Lydon, adding that her office is "ready to expedite the prosecution of these cases."

Among those nabbed for either Internet crimes against children or prostitution were repeat and registered sex offenders, as well as a Boy Scout leader, a member of a county ethics commission, business leaders, a S.C. Dept. of Corrections officer, and a U.S. Army officer. Two of those arrested admitted to possessing over 5,000 images of child pornography.

"These are monsters within our community – there is no other way to describe them –  and all of us working as part of this task force are committed to getting them off the street and away from our kids," says Lott. "We now have 38 in custody, and there may well be more as this is an ongoing operation."

Capt. Maria Yturria, director of RCSD's office of public information, says, "This ongoing effort may well extend beyond South Carolina's borders."

The sting operation was conducted, July 10-13.

W. Thomas Smith Jr., a special deputy with the Richland County Sheriff's Dept., is a formerly deployed U.S. Marine infantry leader, counterterrorism instructor, and a former SWAT team officer in the nuclear industry.

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