Sheriff issues controversial message
by The Press and Standard | August 29, 2019 5:00 am
Last Updated: August 28, 2019 at 12:03 pm
Electronic message to employees suggests give support or get fired; lawsuit against former employee settled.
It will be over 10 months before voters go to the polls in the Republican and Democratic primary elections, but Colleton County Sheriff R.A. Strickland is already laying down the law for his employees.
It was a few minutes before 9 p.m. on Aug. 19 when Strickland fired off a mass electronic message to his employees.
Below is Strickland’s message, entitled “Calling A Few Out:”
So let’s clear some things up so we can all make sure we are on the same sheet of paper! As a Sheriff and true leader I can look myself in the mirror at night knowing I am dedicated to my people as well as the citizens of Colleton County. As a Sheriff and to the employees of Colleton County I want to remind each and every one of you that South Carolina is an at will state and the employees of Colleton County Sheriff’s Office work under the Office of Sheriff. If a potential candidate contacts you, my advise to you would be not to get involved. Read between the lines and I ask that you remain loyal and support me as a leader as well as a Sheriff. From here on out, zero tolerance is now in effect. This is a promise to you and this office! Stay in your lane. Be safe and have a great night!
Sheriff R.A. Strickland
******I approved this message*******”
Strickland’s electronic message to his troops began making its rounds, eventually making its way to the news media.
On Aug. 26, a week after his first message, Strickland offered a prepared statement, attempting to downplay the political aspect of his message and painting support for him being the best sheriff for county residents.
“The role of Sheriff is similar to that of a coach. Someone who is motivated, hands-on and passionate, encouraging their team, never giving up on them no matter how hard the struggle. Believing in me and what our office stands for allows us to be on the same page ensuring the well-being of the citizens of Colleton County. As a leader I promise to uphold my service, and continue to do what’s best for our employee’s and citizens of this community,” the statement said.
Strickland’s threat to use the state’s at-will hiring and firing to rid his staff of those not fully behind his bid for re-election came two months after a settlement of a 2017 law suit concerning Strickland’s dismissal of former Major Leslie Jamison during the 2016 race for Colleton County sheriff.
Jamison was the only African-American member of Strickland’s command staff leading up to his race against Democratic candidate Otis Rhodes.
In her suit, she alleged that Strickland and the other members of the command staff began to isolate her and circumvent her performance of her duties because she would not attend Strickland’s campaign events but never worked in support of Strickland’s challenger.
The hostile work environment ended when Strickland fired Jamison on Jan. 17, 2017. She had been a member of the sheriff’s office for five years.
Jamison’s lawsuit, filed in Colleton County Court of Common Pleas, claimed Strickland violated state law that states “it is unlawful for a person to assault or intimidate a citizen, discharge a citizen from employment or occupation or eject a citizen from a rented house, land or other property because of political opinions or the exercise of political rights and privileges guaranteed to every citizen by the Constitution and laws of the United States or by the Constitution and law of this state.”
Strickland, in his deposition, claimed that he dismissed Jamison because of her job performance.
The suit was filed against Colleton County government and Strickland, both individually and in his official capacity as sheriff.
In late June, both sides in the case agreed to settle out of court. Jamison would be paid $30,000 and her attorneys would receive $34,379, the funds coming from the South Carolina Insurance Reserve Fund, the county’s insurance carrier.
Commenting on the settlement, Strickland offered a prepared statement:
“I stand behind my decision pertaining to this particular case. Agreeance to settle does not entail fault by either persons, this was a decision that was best for the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office and our employees. As Sheriff of Colleton County I will continue to provide due diligence to our employees, and to the citizens of Colleton County.”