State indicts sheriff on 15 counts

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A South Carolina State Grand Jury, investigating the last few years in office of suspended Colleton County Sheriff Robert A. Strickland Jr., filed a total of 15 indictments against the county’s two-term top law enforcement officer.

The indictments, unsealed by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office on Feb. 18, paint a picture of wide-spread public corruption.

South Carolina Attorney General Office Communications Director Robert Kittle said he could not comment on the possibility of additional indictments being generated based on the state grand jury investigation.

The state grand jury is the only grand jury in South Carolina that can subpoena witnesses and compel them to testify. It can be called on to conduct investigations into specific types of crime including public corruption.

The state grand jury worked with investigators from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the Attorney General Office’s State Grand Jury Division.

Approximately four hours after South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced the indictments, Strickland appeared in a Richland County court for a bond hearing on the charges.

Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Creighton Waters, head of the State Grand Jury Division, asked Judge DeAndea Benjamin to set a $50,000 surety bond for the suspended sheriff and asked that while out on bond, Strickland be required to wear a GPS monitoring devise and be placed under house arrest.

Waters told the judge that several witnesses had expressed concern that Strickland might react violently once he was indicted, which is the reason the state asked for the monitoring and house arrest.

The judge was also asked to have Strickland surrender all his firearms to SLED, have no contact with any witnesses or sheriff’s office employees and that he surrender his passport.

Charleston attorney Andy Savage, who is also representing Strickland in the Colleton County domestic violence case, recapped Strickland’s law enforcement career and explained that Strickland was undergoing treatment and was not a danger to the witnesses or members of the sheriff’s office that he had once led.

Benjamin gave Strickland a $25,000 surety bond and required GPS monitoring.

Savage asked that the monitor be removed after 90 days.

Benjamin did not require house arrest but did order him to surrender all firearms his passport and not have contact with any witnesses or sheriff’s office employees.

Strickland’s alleged actions included a sexual relationship with a member of his staff and supplying narcotics and alcohol to others during his attendance at a state law enforcement association’s annual meeting in Myrtle Beach.

One misconduct in office indictment alleges “Strickland did use his supervisory power over the employment and wages of sheriff’s office staff to coerce the continuation of an ongoing sexual relationship (from September of 2016 to about September of 2018) with a subordinate and did use county resources and time to further these activities.”

Strickland’s attendance at the meeting in Myrtle Beach generated four indictments.

He faces two counts of misconduct in office, embezzlement and distribution of a Schedule IV controlled substance in connection with his attendance at the conference.

One of the misconduct in office charges and an embezzlement indictment involves his use of public funds for non-official lodging expenses. He allegedly used the county-authorized credit card issued to the sheriff’s office to pay for several rooms at the resort that was hosting the conference.

A county employee in charge of monitoring credit card usage questioned Strickland’s use of the card for the lodging. Strickland reportedly informed the county official that she had no right to question his use of the credit card.

The second misconduct in office and distribution of a Schedule IV controlled substance indictment involved his alleged actions at the conference.

Strickland allegedly provided Ambien and alcohol to a subordinate who did not have a valid prescription for the substance and was under the legal drinking age.

Strickland faces charges of misconduct in office, use of official position or office for financial gain ethics act violations and embezzlement in connection for his receiving his sheriff’s salary and his use of on-duty members of the sheriff’s office to do work and improvements to Strickland’s home, land and other properties or businesses, at least in part owned or controlled by Strickland, and doing other work for Strickland’s personal benefit. Those violations allegedly occurred between Jan. 1, 2016 and Nov. 30, 2019.

The sheriff office personnel were reportedly required to work at Strickland’s home, work on homes that he would purchase, repair and then resell, as well as at another side business selling used appliances.

Another series of indictments — misconduct in office, embezzlement and use of official position or office for financial gain — ethics act violation centers on his use of sheriff’s office vehicles and tools for personal work on his properties and businesses during the same time period.

A series of other indictments — misconduct in office, embezzlement and use of public funds, property or time to influence an election — ethics act violation focuses on Strickland’s allegedly paying sheriff’s office personnel to work on his 2016 reelection campaign.

Last year the county and Strickland agreed to an out-of-court settlement with a former sheriff’s office employee who filed suit claiming that she had been fired from her post for not working on his re-election campaign. The settlement provided $30,000 to the former employee and paid over $34,000 in legal fees to the plaintiff’s attorney.

Another misconduct in office indictment alleges that Strickland gave a $3,000 governmental radio unit to a private citizen for no valid official purpose. The special radio unit gave the unnamed citizen access to secure first responder communication channels.

Each of the seven misconduct in office charges have a maximum sentence of 10 years and each of the three embezzlement charges carry a maximum sentence of five years.

The distribution of a Schedule IV controlled substance charge has a three-year maximum sentence and each of the three ethics act violations have a maximum sentence of one year.

The state grand jury investigation was already underway when Strickland was arrested on an unrelated charge of second-degree domestic violence, a charge that led Gov. Henry McMaster to temporarily remove Strickland from his sheriff’s post.

A SLED agent assigned to investigate the Nov. 7 domestic violence incident filed the charge against Strickland on Nov. 9 and the sheriff was released following a bond hearing.

On Nov. 22, Strickland was indicted on the charge by a grand jury, enabling McMaster to suspend the sheriff from his post until a decision was made on his guilt or innocence.

The domestic violence charge is still pending in Colleton County General Sessions Court. A court appearance scheduled for Feb. 14 was not held.

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