South Carolina

Former York County cop paid suspect for sex while on duty. Will he go to prison?

A former York County deputy who paid for sex from a suspect pleaded guilty to misconduct in office.

However, Christopher August Gage, 37, of York will not spend any time in a South Carolina prison.

Gage was sentenced to three years probation as part of a plea agreement.

The charge carries a maximum of one year in prison. Gage has no previous record.

Gage pleaded guilty Thursday in York County courtroom, nine months after South Carolina state police agents arrested him. As part of the plea agreement, Gage loses his police officer certification in the state and can never be a cop in South Carolina again, prosecutors said.

The hearing became contentious after Gage’s lawyer, Zachary Merritt, said in court it was “a case of selective prosecution.”

Gage is a Marines combat veteran who served in Afghanistan and was awarded medals, Merritt said. The defense denies allegations made in arrest warrants that Gage withheld arresting the woman during the time the two had sexual encounters, Merritt said in court.

Gage knew the woman from a previous relationship, said Merritt, an associate at the Michael Brown law firm in Rock Hill..

Merritt said in court other deputies who previously had been involved in sex on duty cases were not prosecuted by police or prosecutors.

“He comes here today to take his scarlet letter,” Merritt said in court of Gage pleading guilty.

Merritt said after court that Gage accepted responsibility for his actions and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge.

Gage did not speak in court except to say that he was guilty.

York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said in court he “takes offense to Mr. Merritt’s canonization of this defendant.”

In 2017, eight deputies admitted to sexual encounters while on duty, before Tolson took office in January 2017. Tolson was elected in 2016. That investigation ended with two deputies being fired and four others were disciplined, but none were charged with crimes.

Gage’s offenses were not the same as other deputies, who had sex with each other while on duty, Tolson said. Gage had sex with a person wanted for a criminal charge and paid for the sex, Tolson said.

Tolson said the defense “opened up old wounds,” concerning other officers disciplinary actions.

“Those officers had relationships with each other, not with citizens who had active arrest warrants that they paid,” Tolson said in court. “There’s dumb, there’s irresponsible, and there’s a complete erosion of public trust.”

After court, Tolson said Gage’s conduct should not overshadow the good work of the men and women of the sheriff’s office and what those officers do every day.

Tolson fired Gage in January 2018 after someone reported Gage. Gage had been a deputy for 10 months when he was fired. He was arrested in mid-2018 after a State Law Enforcement Division investigation.

Matthew Shelton, 16th Circuit senior assistant solicitor, said in court that Gage had sex with the woman multiple times from October through December in 2017. The sexual encounters happened while Gage was on duty and in his patrol car, Shelton said.

The woman told investigators she was aware she had a pending arrest warrant and Gage talked to her about it, Shelton said in court. That was corroborated by text messages recovered by SLED agents, Shelton said. Investigators also recovered Gage’s DNA, Shelton said.

Shelton said Gage’s conduct was a “serious matter of public trust and public confidence.”

“A civilized community cannot tolerate this from law enforcement,” Shelton said in court. “They should rise to a higher level.”

Still, prosecutors agreed to a plea deal where Gage avoided jail time.

York County Circuit Court Judge Bill McKinnon accepted the negotiated plea of no jail time for Gage, but ordered three years probation.

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Andrew Dys covers breaking news and public safety for The Herald, where he has been a reporter and columnist since 2000. He has won 51 South Carolina Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, race, justice, and people. He is author of the book “Slice of Dys” and his work is in the U.S. Library of Congress.