SC sheriff faces up to 1 year in jail for misconduct

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina sheriff found guilty of misconduct for using his power and office to push a personal assistant to have sex with him faces up to a year in jail when he is sentenced Friday.

A jury found Greenville County Sheriff Will Lewis guilty of one misconduct charge late Thursday, assuring under the law he will be removed from the job he won in South Carolina’s most populous county in 2016.

It was a split verdict. Jurors convicted Lewis of misconduct that involves corruption or fraud, but not guilty of misconduct that involves not doing a public job properly.

Lewis is the ninth sheriff in South Carolina to be convicted of crimes while in office in the past decade. The convicted sheriffs’ crimes have ranged from using inmates for personal work to running a scheme to create fake police reports to help fix credit problems to protecting drug dealers. Two other sheriffs are awaiting trials.

Lewis testified in his own defense in the four-day trial, saying he did not plan to have sex with his young female assistant at an out-of-town budget conference, but one thing led to another after they went out for drinks and ended up in her hotel room.

Prosecutors disagree. They said Lewis, 43, used his power to set up the encounter, first by hiring the then 22-year-old woman at $62,000 a year in an agency where the starting salary for a deputy is around $30,000 and then by setting up the trip and making excuses to get her alone.

Nabors had previously gone public with the details of what she called an unwanted sexual encounter with Lewis in 2017 in a Charlotte, North Carolina, hotel. She wrote in a blog and testified that she woke up after drinks and the sheriff was on top of her and having sex.

No sexual assault charges have been filed against Lewis. The assistant, Savanah Nabors, was paid nearly $100,000 from a state insurance fund in May to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit against Lewis, Greenville County and the sheriff’s office.

Nabors taped 11 conversations with the sheriff after he followed her around one day. Lewis did not admit to having sex with her until she made those tapes public. In one of them, Lewis tries to get Nabors to go to a conference in Reno, Nevada, with him and so they can “sit around and drink on the beach on company time” and stay in the same room.

“You get to hear the naked, brazen corruption and selfishness and manipulation, every nasty, stinking retched thing this man did,” Solicitor Kevin Brackett said in his closing statement.

Lewis has been indicted on about a half-dozen other charges , including allegations he lied about conducting a background check, gave an unqualified employee a badge and intimidated deputies to try to keep them from talking to investigators. Prosecutors have not said what they plan to do in those cases.

Lewis said the affair humbled him and allowed him to become a better man and a better husband. His wife of 20 years sat at the defense table through the whole trial.

“If you’re asking me if this sexual encounter was something I enjoyed as a man, well, yes, I’m a man,” Lewis said during cross examination Thursday. “It seems blissful but it’s the ramifications afterward.”

Judge G. Thomas Cooper reluctantly allowed Lewis to remain free overnight even though he faced possible jail time.

“Mr. Lewis, if you aren’t here tomorrow all hell is going to rain down on you,” Cooper said.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP .

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