South Carolina deputy arrested in child sex sting conducted by his own department

A sting conducted by a South Carolina sheriff's department to catch child sex predators netted 28 arrest warrants, including one for a deputy who was on duty when he was arrested.

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Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Deputy Derek Vandenham, 34, was among the people arrested in "Operation Relentless Guardian," according to The State newspaper of Columbia, South Carolina.

The sting operation included the Richland County Sheriff's Department and 12 other law enforcement agencies, the newspaper reported. In the sting, deputies posed online as 13- to 15-year-old girls and chatted with men on social media platforms and other sites, according to The State.

According to deputies, the men solicited sex from and arranged to meet individuals they believed were the teenage girls at a home donated to the Sheriff's Department for the operation, the newspaper reported The men were arrested by deputies when they arrived at the home.

At a news conference Tuesday, Lott said Vandenham talked with a girl he thought was 15 years old and solicited sex. Investigators changed the location where Vandenham was to meet the teen so he would not know he was about to be arrested, The State reported.

Lott said the deputy arrived at the house in his patrol car while on duty. He was in uniform, the sheriff said.

“That was something that made me sick to my stomach,” Lott said. “That one of my deputies that I trust, that we put out here in the community, is one of these monsters.”

Vandenham was charged with solicitation of a minor and second-degree attempted criminal sexual conduct with a minor between the ages of 11 and 14, The State reported.

The deputy was fired, and Lott informed South Carolina's police licensing agency to rescind Vandenham's certification, the newspaper reported.

Lott said the arrest frustrated him and called the deputy's alleged actions "disgusting."

"In my more than 40 years of law enforcement, never have I run across such a disgraceful act from one of our own," Lott told The State.

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