In 2012, a historic $599,000 settlement was reached between Prison Legal News and then-Berkeley County, South Carolina Sheriff Wayne DeWitt after the Berkeley County jail rejected PLN’s monthly publication and books mailed to prisoners at the facility. At the time, the jail only allowed prisoners to receive Bibles. The settlement included $100,000 in damages plus $499,000 in attorney fees, and represents the largest amount ever paid in a First Amendment jail or prison censorship case in the United States. [See: PLN, Feb. 2012, p.14; Nov. 2010, p.38].
PLN subsequently filed a public records request with the South Carolina Budget and Control Board, which revealed that Berkeley County had paid an additional $390,036.70 in attorney fees and costs to defend against the lawsuit.
DeWitt, who served as sheriff for 20 years, resigned on February 4, 2015, saying he had “cast a cloud” over his post following his arrest on December 28, 2014 for DUI and leaving the scene of an accident. DeWitt was driving a county pickup truck when he rear-ended another vehicle at an intersection. He then fled the scene – and pursuing police – at speeds of over 100 mph for more than two miles. Most of the incident was captured on police dashcam, including footage of the swaying and stumbling sheriff being handcuffed after failing a field sobriety test.
An investigation by the Post and Courier newspaper, which obtained nearly 400 pages of personnel records, revealed that DeWitt’s DUI arrest was not the only “cloud” he had cast during his lengthy tenure with the sheriff’s department. The documents indicated the former sheriff had faced multiple sexual harassment allegations, crashed a cruiser, been demoted for not following warrant procedures and received below-average marks in eight of 10 performance measures, including leadership.
On January 11, 2016, DeWitt pleaded guilty to charges related to the DUI accident and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, suspended to three years of probation, plus 60 hours of community service. He joins the ranks of at least eight other South Carolina sheriffs who have faced criminal charges in the past six years, including former Lexington County Sheriff James Metts, who was sentenced to 366 days in federal prison plus a $10,000 fine in April 2015 for accepting bribes. [See: PLN, April 2013, p.48].
Sources: www.wbtw.com, www.postandcourier.com
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