Sergeant Donald Danner is leaving the Barnwell County Sheriff’s Office after 27 years to serve in a statewide D.A.R.E. position.
Sergeant Donald Danner played a vital role in establishing D.A.R.E. in Barnwell County as a school resource officer (SRO). Now, he is continuing his 41-year career in law enforcement serving in a statewide position for the program that teaches children how to resist peer pressure and live drug and violence-free lives.

“This has been the most rewarding job that a person could have,” said Sgt. Danner. “I have had a great career in law enforcement to this point because it has been rewarding. What I call rewarding is to look at the minds of the children I’ve affected.”

Sgt. Danner was born in Brooklyn, New York, but grew up in Walterboro, S.C. He graduated from Colleton High School in 1970 before being hired by Palmetto Rural Telephone Company in Walterboro where he worked for 10 years. When he left the company, he was the most senior employee.

“They thought I was crazy,” said Sgt. Danner when he made the switch from working at the telephone company to serve behind the badge. However, he felt compelled to make the switch.

His law enforcement career began in 1982 with the S.C. Highway Patrol before serving for 10 years with the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO). In 1995, he was hired by the late Sheriff Joey Zorn of the Barnwell County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO).

Sheriff Zorn quickly made Sgt. Danner a supervisor of the D.A.R.E. program and SRO due to his experience in schools at ACSO. The D.A.R.E. program was founded nationally in 1983 while Sgt. Danner was a deputy in Aiken County. He was then trained as a D.A.R.E. officer in 1990 and is certified to teach in elementary, middle, and high school.

“All the way back to 1990, D.A.R.E. has been an integral part of my career,” said Sgt. Danner.

Not only is Sgt. Danner most likely one of the longest serving D.A.R.E. officers, but he formerly served as president of the S.C. D.A.R.E. Association.

When Sgt. Danner started teaching D.A.R.E., it was a 17-week curriculum. Now the program is a 10-week course developed from social-emotional learning to mirror district curriculum.

The program is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teaches kindergarteners to seniors. State funding was discontinued in 2003 and the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy no longer had the ability to teach and certify officers in the program. However, current Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott refused to let the program die in the state and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department became the statewide training center for D.A.R.E.

Sgt. Danner will be based at this statewide location to impart his ample knowledge onto the next generation of D.A.R.E. officers. He feels this program is one of the best to come out of law enforcement initiatives because of how impactful it is on the youth. He will be serving as the statewide program coordinator based at the Richland County Sheriff’s Office in Columbia starting September 11.

Sgt. Danner spent 22 years as an SRO at Blackville-Hilda High School (BHHS) and worked at Williston-Elko High School briefly as well totaling 27 years with BCSO. He taught the children of his former students, reaffirming him as a staple in the area.

Due to his long-standing career in Barnwell County schools, Sgt. Danner often runs into former students around town and appreciates when they recount their days in the D.A.R.E. program.

Although Sgt. Danner has maintained a dedicated career in law enforcement for over four decades, he also pursued many endeavors outside of being an officer.

Often compared to singer Al Green, Sgt. Danner made multiple debuts in the music scene across the country as well as singing at countless local events and ceremonies.

One of these singing opportunities sprung from the 1988 Aiken County arrest of the singer known as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Sgt. Danner still has laminated copies of the articles recounting the two-state automobile chase that resulted in charges and jail time for Brown where he was the arresting officer.

Sgt. Danner was getting ready to do a D.A.R.E. presentation when the call came over the radio for a chase in progress less than a mile from his location.

He remembers Brown being chased by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia as he made his way into Aiken County. Sgt. Danner initially got behind the Richmond County deputies until Brown suddenly stopped at a stop sign.

“Mr. Brown came to the stop sign and he just sat there waving at people and they didn’t try to stop him,” said Sgt. Danner, who had the jurisdiction to make an arrest. “I looked over at him, and I said, “Mr. Brown you need to pull over.’”

Brown then pulled over and Sgt. Danner asked him to end the chase. However, law enforcement officers then broke the passenger window in Brown’s truck causing him to speed off beginning the second part of the chase, according to Sgt. Danner.

The tires on Brown’s truck were then shot out by the agency and Brown was driving on rims. Sgt. Danner recalls a local radio station was broadcasting the chase which resulted in a crowd gathering.

Once Brown stopped in an adjacent neighborhood, Sgt. Danner approached him again, got Brown into his patrol car, and took him to Richmond County for booking.

During the ordeal, Brown had a shotgun that “probably wouldn’t shoot if a gunsmith worked on it,” said Sgt. Danner, who recalls Brown never posed a threat with the weapon.

Brown then waived extradition and was brought back to Aiken County by Sgt. Danner.

“That day, I will never forget as long as I live,” said Sgt. Danner.

The singing opportunity came when Sgt. Danner came to visit Brown while on work release. He began joking with Brown how he could sing, and the Godfather of Soul then made a life changing phone call on Sgt. Danner’s behalf.

“This man picks up the telephone, calls the Apollo,” said Sgt. Danner.

Opened in 1914, the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, was a popular venue for soul and blues performers and is the home of the former television show, Showtime at the Apollo. The theater is famous for many household names and rising stars taking the stage.

With Brown’s endorsement to officials at the Apollo, Sgt. Danner did not even need to audition to be on the show. He remembers the encouraging words of that night’s host, Steve Harvey, before he took to the stage to perform Al Green’s For the Good Times. He received a standing ovation.

“That was the highlight of my life,” said Sgt. Danner. “The people made me feel like I was Al Green!”

Brown and Sgt. Danner remained close after the arrest. Sgt. Danner would frequently provide security when Brown came into town and was even a bodyguard at Brown’s funeral in 2006.

Sgt. Danner has been singing his entire life, and finds it to be a talent gifted to him by God. During his musical career, Sgt. Danner sang blues and soul in a band called Lou and the Groovers.

The band recorded one album titled, You Make Me Feel Real. He remembers stepping onto club stages across the country in a three-piece, milk-white suit wearing matching shoes with glass heels.

Sgt. Danner would sing renditions of hits by Al Green, Luther Vandross, Bobby Womack, and Marvin Gaye. He even was able to meet many of these famous artists as musical opportunities continued to unfold.

Sgt. Danner later released three gospel songs on Spotify– ‘He Looked Beyond My Faults,’ ‘His Eye Is On The Sparrow,’ and ‘Baptized in the Name of Jesus.’

Faith has played an integral role in Sgt. Danner’s life, not only inspiring him to sing gospel songs but also serving as an ordained elder. Since 1979, Sgt. Danner has sung and preached for one of the largest church affiliated organizations, the Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith (PCAF) alongside numerous churches across the country.

Aside from his careers in music and law enforcement, Sgt. Danner always wanted to be a funeral director and embalmer – a dream that is on the way to being fulfilled. He recalls listing becoming a funeral director his ambition in his high school yearbook.

Sgt. Danner began this journey working at Hamilton Funeral Home in Walterboro under George G. Hamilton and continued to work intermittently at funeral homes his entire life.

“It is a passion that I have that many people do not have…you don’t see a long line at the funeral home for a job application” said Sgt. Danner with a laugh.

A couple of years ago, Sgt. Danner took the leap to begin the two-year-long apprenticeship. He studied at Guinyard & Sons Funeral Home in Barnwell and is currently in the process of taking mortuary science courses.

“At some point in the very near future I will be challenging that exam to get my funeral director’s license,” said Sgt. Danner, who then plans to get his embalmers license.

This path of study came after he surpassed what he calls the most important milestone of his life– graduating magna cum laude from Claflin University in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at 67 years old.

At first, he was unsure if he would be able to do it. However, his support network of teachers and faculty at BHHS continued to push him toward success.

When law enforcement, music, academics, and church weren’t filling his time, Sgt. Danner could be found driving charter buses across the country with just a roadmap.

He has gone from California to New York to Florida driving for Lewis Bus Line beginning in 1989. Much of his driving was done when he worked for the telephone company and before getting married in 1994.

Sgt. Danner is grateful to have had four children and a supportive family behind him throughout these endeavors.

All the paths he has taken have an element of service, something Sgt. Danner thanks God for.

“It’s God given,” he said. “I have always been a people person.”

Although Barnwell County is losing their longest serving SRO, Sgt. Danner is not leaving the community entirely. He will still reside in the county and commute to Richland County each day.

“I’m going to miss the relationships I’ve developed,” said Sgt. Danner, who is proud to move on after a longstanding and dedicated career in the county.

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