South Carolina sheriff indicted on obstruction charge
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina sheriff who admitted an affair with a female employee but denied her accusations that he drugged her was indicted Tuesday on charges he obstructed a state investigation into his conduct and misused his office.
The indictments against Greenville County Sheriff Will Lewis gave few details about what Solicitor Kevin Brackett thinks the sheriff did, but Brackett said in a statement that a State Law Enforcement Division investigation continues and more charges are possible.
Lewis was immediately removed from office — pending the resolution of the case — by Gov. Henry McMaster, who named former Sheriff Johnny Mack Brown as a temporary replacement. Brown served six terms as sheriff before deciding not to run again in 2000.
The state investigation into Lewis began in October after a 23-year-old woman Lewis hired as his assistant for $62,000 a year sued him, saying he drugged her and had sex with her without her consent in a Charlotte, North Carolina, hotel room.
Her 38-page legal lawsuit included salacious details, including links to 11 audio recordings of conversations between the woman and the sheriff about their relationship, with details about being given a drink while alone with Lewis in a hotel room and waking up to him on top of her having sex.
Lewis admitted having sex with the woman and hurting his family with the affair but held a press conference adamantly denying the other accusations.
“The allegations of rape and stalking — harassment — that’s completely 100 percent false,” Lewis said at the time.
Brackett refused to say if the charges in the indictments were linked to the woman’s allegations or give any other details about the charges at a news conference at a Greenville hotel.
“I have not only an ethical but a moral responsibility to make sure cases are tried in the court of law and not in the breezeway of a Marriott hotel,” Brackett said.
Lewis’ attorney said he couldn’t specifically argue against the charges because they were so vague. But attorney Wally Fayssoux said Lewis himself asked for the investigation after the lawsuit.
“Sheriff Lewis adamantly denies any wrongdoing or misconduct in office and certainly did not interfere with an investigation he personally requested,” Fayssoux said in an email.
Brackett said Lewis will be arraigned and booked on the charges Thursday and Fayssoux said he may have more to say at that time.
Brackett was elected to prosecute cases in York and Union counties, but was given the Lewis’ case to avoid a conflict of interest with prosecutors who deal with the sheriff’s office every day.
Regarding misconduct in office, the document simply said that starting about three weeks after taking office, Lewis “willfully and dishonestly failed to properly and faithfully discharge his lawful duties as the Greenville County Sheriff through a series of improper acts.”
Since 2010, nine sheriffs, who are the chief law enforcement officers in each of South Carolina’s 46 counties, have been convicted of illegal behavior.
Lewis received only 19 percent of the vote in a five-way Republican primary for sheriff in Greenville County in June 2016, while the incumbent, Steve Loftis, got 42 percent.
Lewis then faced Loftis directly in the runoff and won by less than 500 votes.
Loftis campaigned hard against Lewis, releasing documents about how Lewis abruptly resigned in the middle of a shift in 2011 after a female deputy filed a complaint about him kissing her in front of an arrested suspect.