More Than One in Four South Carolina Sheriffs Have Been Accused of Crimes

Who’s policing the police in SC?

In the past ten years, sheriffs in more than one in four SC counties have been accused of major crimes – most of them were indicted and convicted either by guilty plea or jury trial, although some are still pending.

I don’t mean the sheriff’s deputies that get charged with DUIs, rape, embezzlement, or other misconduct in office. I mean more than one in four elected sheriffs – the person in charge who sets and oversees department policies – has been accused of, indicted for, or convicted of crimes committed while in office.

For the people who are awake and paying attention to the crimes committed by rank and file law enforcement on a regular basis in SC, it’s not hard to figure out why.

The rot begins at the top…

Speaking out About Corruption in Law Enforcement Does Not Make You Anti-Law Enforcement

Do I support law enforcement? Emphatically.

Demanding that law enforcement, especially leadership, follow the law and have some degree of integrity does not make us anti-law enforcement.

If you are a sheriff’s deputy, a police officer, a highway patrol officer, or any law enforcement officer in SC, you must demand accountability. Demand that your supervisors and leadership follow the law and respect the Bill of Rights. Demand that your fellow officers live up to the community’s high expectations for your conduct.

If you are a legislator, demand accountability. Draft legislation that will provide more oversight of law enforcement officials’ activities and that will provide consequences for misconduct.

If you are a prosecutor, prosecute officers who are committing crimes. Don’t stand by while a police officer perjures themselves on the witness stand. Demand accountability.

If you see crime, greed, and corruption in a police department or sheriff’s office, report it to SLED and report it to federal authorities. Report it to the media. Demand accountability. If you are worried about keeping your job, ask yourself what is that job worth if you remain silent? Are you complicit in corruption or can you make a difference?

If you are an attorney, don’t shy away from filing suit against police departments or sheriff’s offices for misconduct. Who is policing the police in SC? Sometimes, it is only the rare plaintiff’s attorney who is not afraid to file suit against the government. Hold them accountable.

If you are a voter, regardless of political affiliation, do not vote for a sheriff candidate who has demonstrated dishonesty, a disregard for the Constitution, and tolerance for corruption in their department. Believe it or not, an honest, law-abiding sheriff will do a better job at protecting us. Hold them accountable.

If you are reading this, and your reaction is that I am anti-law enforcement, you may be part of the problem. I am, and you should be, anti-corruption in law enforcement. That does not make us anti-law enforcement.

Framing the issue of corruption in law enforcement as “pro-law enforcement” or “anti-law enforcement” is dishonest and its purpose is to deflect from the very real crimes that are being committed by law enforcement officials in SC. When citizens or law enforcement officers report misconduct by police, they should be rewarded, not ignored or retaliated against.

There a crisis of confidence in SC’s law enforcement.

Change needs to come quickly, and it needs to include a change in the culture that allows law enforcement officials to commit and cover up crimes. It also needs to include a change in the culture that allows some to paint criticism of officers committing actual crimes as “anti-law enforcement.”

What crimes am I talking about?

Crimes Committed by SC Sheriffs

SC has 46 counties. With this week’s indictment of the Chester County Sheriff, the total of SC sheriffs accused of major crimes in the past ten years is now 13 – more than one in four of SC’s counties.

These incidents do not include the rank-and-file members of the sheriffs’ departments or local police departments, only the elected sheriffs who have been indicted for crimes they personally committed…

Chester County Sheriff Indicted

Let’s begin with the most recent charges. The Chester County, SC sheriff, Alex Underwood, and several sheriff’s department employees were indicted this week on allegations of assaulting and arresting a man who was recording law enforcement from his own yard, and for attempting to cover up the unlawful arrest – including:

  • Searching the man’s home and seizing his cell phone without a warrant;
  • Lying in incident reports;
  • Creating a false disciplinary report in an attempt to blame another deputy; and
  • Lying to the FBI about the incident.

There have been previous allegations of misconduct by Underwood, including questionable spending of forfeiture funds, that he has not been charged with.

Florence County Sheriff Indicted

Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone was indicted a few weeks ago for misconduct in office including embezzlement of forfeiture funds “to buy window tinting services, floor mats, tools, and groceries.”

Orangeburg County Sheriff Accused of Embezzling over $70,000

After his death, it was reported that Orangeburg County Sheriff Larry Dalton Williams had embezzled over $70,000 from “federal and state task force funds” to purchase a motor home for himself and his fiancée.

Chesterfield County Sheriff Convicted of Embezzlement

The Chesterfield County Sheriff, Sam Parker, was convicted of misconduct in office, embezzlement, and furnishing contraband to inmates. He was sentenced to two years in prison after a jury found him guilty.

Lexington County Sheriff Pled Guilty to Accepting Bribes

Lexington County Sheriff James Metts was charged with multiple counts in federal court including allegations of accepting bribes and ultimately pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants and was sentenced to one year in prison.

Union County Sheriff Convicted of Lying to Federal Investigators

Union County Sheriff Howard Wells was convicted of lying to federal investigators about his tax returns and sentenced to 90 days in jail. He was also accused of tax evasion and witness tampering.

Charleston County Sheriff Charged with Assault

Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon was arrested and charged with assault and battery for slapping a handcuffed suspect.

Berkeley County Sheriff Accused of DUI and Sexual Harassment

Berkeley County Sheriff Wayne DeWitt was charged with driving under the influence and then resigned his office when allegations of sexual harassment were revealed soon after the DUI arrest.

Lee County Sheriff Convicted of Accepting Bribes to Protect Drug Dealers

Lee County Sheriff E.J. Melvin was convicted of accepting bribes to protect drug dealers and was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison.

Abbeville County Sheriff Convicted of Taking Kickbacks

Abbeville Sheriff Charles Goodwin was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and ordered to pay $4,445 in restitution after he was charged with taking kickbacks for repairs on county vehicles and using inmates to do work for himself and his friends.

Williamsburg County Sheriff Convicted for Misconduct

Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson was sentenced to 2 and a half years in prison for creating fake police reports “to help a friend’s credit repair business inflate credit scores for more than 100 people.”

Greenville County Sheriff Charged with Misconduct in Office, Perjury, and Obstruction

Greenville County Sheriff Will Lewis was indicted for misconduct in office, perjury, and obstruction of justice, in addition to uncharged allegations of sexual assault and harassment of a subordinate.

Saluda County Sheriff Convicted of Misconduct in Office

Saluda County Sheriff Jason Booth pled guilty to misconduct in office for using an inmate to work on his private property:

[The inmate] provided manual labor for Booth on his property, including welding a large gate, digging a pond and constructing what the prosecution called a “party shed.” In exchange, the inmate was allowed to spend nights away from the detention center at a shed on Booth’s property, wear street clothes rather than a prison uniform, have conjugal visits with his girlfriend (one that resulted in a child), have access to a four-wheeler, travel out of town to visit family, attend parties on Booth’s property, and to top it off, Booth even told him he would help get his sentence reduced.

And then Booth ran for Sheriff again

Is That All?

The above are only the media reports I have found on elected sheriffs who were accused of personally committing crimes while in office – it does not include the sheriff’s offices’ employees, chiefs of police, or other law enforcement officials convicted of crimes.

It also does not include the many SC sheriffs who have been arrested and convicted more than ten years ago, like:

  • Anderson County Sheriff Jim Williams who was indicted as part of an auto theft ring in 1972;
  • Berkeley County Sheriff James Rogers, who pled guilty to protecting illegal gambling operations in 1982; and
  • Dillon County Sheriff Roy Lee, who was charged with vote-buying in 1981.

It also does not include the flood of allegations of misconduct contained in civil lawsuits filed against Sheriffs across the state, or the detailed allegations of misconduct and misuse of funds contained in this Post and Courier article.

Criminal Defense Lawyer in Myrtle Beach, Columbia, and Lexington, SC

Lacey Thompson only accepts criminal defense cases in the Myrtle Beach, Lexington, and Columbia, SC areas.

If you have been charged with a crime or think that you are under investigation, call the Thompson Defense Firm now at 843-444-6122 or send us an email to set up a free consultation.

SC sheriffs indicted

2 Responses to “More Than One in Four South Carolina Sheriffs Have Been Accused of Crimes

  • Mary M Mooney
    2 months ago

    Having power corrupts can lessen morality. This is very sad. We need law enforcement. What bothers me is these people work hard. I think the problem is that this type of behavior is accepted as normal by law enforcement. People are worried about their jobs so they keep their mouths shut. If people would speak up when they see things often nothing is done. Thanks for bringing this information to the public.
    What I do know is the corruption goes further.

    I don’t trust the indictments to be true. I am sure there are 2 sides to each case. Too bad we will never know the actual truth. These people may or may not have done what is in the indictment. The Prosecutors will get guilty pleas and the truth may never be told. The way our system is rigged. Even if they did not do what the indictment says the prosecutors will most likely get a plea. SAD SAD SAD our Justice system does not work the way it should.

  • Respondent
    2 months ago

    First and foremost, shit rolls down hill. If you ever served your country, you would understand this to mean that when there’s a problem, you go to the top, further as far to the top as you can with your complaint; such as a base commander that’s responsible for every section of a military base. However, South Carolina is not a military base, and it’s typically ran into the ground by such idiots as Nikki Haley; last seen trying to inflict her socialist ideology upon a world of diplomats at the United Nations which, of course, didn’t last long. However, she had precious little trouble in thwarting responsibility upon men for domestic violence in South Carolina with her CDV Task Force; leaving an ever increasing wake of broken families, further imprisoned fathers in her ideological wake; believing the reason as being cultural, further here spoken like a true Nihilist:

    “I’m a mom, I’m a wife and I’m a sister, and I’ve got to protect those around me,” Haley said. “But, in order to protect those around me, we have to change the culture. If we don’t, we will continue to see generational cycles of domestic violence in South Carolina.”

    Perhaps if she had addressed the cause vs. the symptom, such as educating, employing and in general empowering a disproportionate number of women in the given populous, leaving men to not only remain subject to old world standards, further flat broke and working in factories with college educations and defaulted student loans, then perhaps she and her task force might understand that diversity has no more to do with equality than stiffer prison sentences has to do with CDV prevention.

    Greenville Health Systems, for example, controls three of the four major hospitals in the upstate, further boasts an 80% female populous within their demographics; leaving men such as myself with defaulted student loans, further cops at my door delivering a trespass notice; having gone there to inquire over why they stated they had spoken with me in a denial email when they hadn’t, further seen no less than 12 other individuals in my field that were all black and all female when I was there. Perhaps if Tricky Nikki ever took a drive through the average city, further noticed that the title loan and pawn shops tend to outnumber the fast food restaurants by a margin of two to one, then perhaps she might have understood something about actual accountability, further her own responsibility for a culture that’s simply not all female. After all; this is not a college anthropology project; it’s an American state, and there’s little to nothing democratic about it.

    That being said, lets examine the actual cause of the given subject — money. South Carolina law enforcement makes little to nothing for all the risks they take, and precious few actually know the law as it’s written. The reason for this is because the criminal judiciary in this state is big business. For when you have 46 counties in a state that’s only one third bigger than all of San Bernardino County, what you’re left with is 46 counties that supplement their economy through malicious prosecution, further couldn’t care less if they prosecute an innocent person or not. Think about that the next time you reach atop a stack of Brady Motions and send one to the prosecution, further receive little more than a narrative vs. everything required for a legitimate prosecution; such as all that exculpatory evidence that simply benefits no one but the accused.

    Thereafter, think about what lawyers actually do vs. all that unprofitable and untimely due diligence that the rules of professional conduct require, further know that even though the average police officer might lack your level of legal expertise, they’re at least smart enough to learn through shady, colluding example. For half of the attorneys in Georgetown, for example, have both a private practice and city/county job; such as judge or solicitor. Even the former mayor, Jack Scoville, had a legal office within walking distance of his city hall office. And yes; it’s quite illegal, and for obvious reasons. Thankfully, Jack had the decency to drop dead recently; therefore, perhaps the rest might soon do us all a favor and do the same…

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