Former police pleads guilty in attack on man in store parking lot

troot@thesunnews.comMarch 7, 2014 

Kevin Lee Duke

A former Horry County police officer pleaded guilty and was sentenced Friday for a 2012 assault on a man in a store parking lot.

Michael and Devora Harrelson had eaten an early dinner Dec. 21, 2012, and decided to stop at the North Myrtle Beach Wal-Mart for laundry detergent before they headed home for the night.

They found a parking spot in row 8, about four spaces from the front door, so Michael Harrelson waited in the car for the other customer to load his purchases, while Devora Harrelson got out of their vehicle and retrieved a shopping cart.

As she waited nearby, Devora Harrelson said a man driving a silver BMW behind her husband began to flash his lights, honk his horn and cursed at them from his car. Michael Harrelson parked the couple’s car and the BMW driver pulled up next to them, got out of the vehicle and attacked Michael Harrelson .

The assault took about 15 to 20 seconds before the driver returned to his vehicle and then drove away. It was captured on store video surveillance cameras.

Devora Harrelson got the car’s license plate number and called police while trying to help her husband, who was bleeding from a cut on his head. The couple later learned Michael Harrelson suffered head fractures, a concussion and injury to his brain that he continues to cope with.

Soon after North Myrtle Beach police were called to the store’s parking lot about 6 p.m. that day, they also received a telephone call from Kevin Duke, a retired Horry County police officer and now former Horry County school teacher.

The 49-year-old reported he was assaulted in the store parking lot.

After an investigation, police charged Duke with second-degree and third-degree assault and battery charges on Dec. 23, 2012, and he was released that day on $2,500 bail. Duke had been free on bail until Friday when he pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced by Circuit Court Judge Craig Brown.

Duke had requested a trial on the charges and a jury had been selected and the trial was set to start before he agreed to plead guilty and accept a recommendation from prosecutors to cap the jail time sentence to 90 days.

Duke was ordered to serve three years in prison, but Brown suspended that sentence upon Duke’s service of 90 days in jail, three years probation, 40 hours public service and anger management counseling.

Authorities will meet on May 7 to discuss restitution in the case for the Harrelsons, who say they have suffered loss of work and numerous medical bills from the incident.

For his sentence, Duke will be held at J. Reuben Long Detention Center in a special housing unit, isolated from the inmate population because of his status as a former Horry County police officer, said Tom Fox, jail director.

Duke worked with Horry County Schools as a teacher at St. James High School from Dec. 12, 2012, until his termination on Jan. 28, 2013, said Teal Harding, Horry County Schools spokeswoman.

Duke had worked with Horry County police since May 1991 until he retired as a lieutenant in November 2011, said Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman. He returned to work as a patrol officer on Nov. 16, 2011, and then left on May 20.

Before he was sentenced, Duke turned to the couple and apologized for the trouble he had caused them.

Michael Harrelson said he suffered a concussion and brain injury that had slowed his activities in the incident.

“I made a misjudgment. I overreacted,” Duke said. “I’ve never in my life committed a crime. Because of 10 seconds out of my life … I never intended to hurt the Harrelsons. … I’m sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Harrelson.”

But for Michael Harrelson, the struggle to recover continues, he said Friday.

Michael and Devora Harrelson said they sold Michael’s motorcycle because doctors told him not to ride anymore because of his brain injury. The couple said it’s difficult for Michael Harrelson to remember simple things or where he put items and he has difficulty with some simple tasks.

“I couldn’t live with myself if I had done this to an individual unprovoked,” Michael Harrelson said Friday.

Brown told the Harrelsons that he often sees bad things happen to good people and to not let the incident deter them in their faith or lives.

“I often tell them [Brown’s children ages 14, 11 and 8] one bad decision can destroy you,” Brown said before he imposed Duke’s sentence. “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation but you can destroy it in a matter of seconds. Only you [Duke] know what went through your mind that day. Why I don’t know, only you know.”

Duke’s attorney, Billy Monckton, asked for mercy in the sentencing for Duke because of his prior military service and years of police and public service to Horry County.

“This is something completely out of the ordinary for Kevin,” Monckton said. “It was 20 seconds total out of his life that he made the worse decision of his life. This 20 seconds of Kevin’s life should not define him.”

Monckton said after the hearing that the case was unfortunate for everyone involved, but Duke took responsibility for his actions and brought closure to the matter.

“The judge imposed a fair sentence based on all the facts involved and especially Kevin’s service to his country and community,” Monckton said.

Brad Richardson, a senior assistant solicitor who prosecuted the case, said the plea and sentence satisfied the Harrelsons and it prevents Duke from having any contact with them or owning a firearm.

“Given the facts of the entire case, this does appear to be an isolated incident. We reviewed his history in law enforcement and criminal history and we could find no indication of violent acts previously,” Richardson said. “The state believes this is the proper resolution to this case given the nature of the case.”

Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723.

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