Strickland pleads, gets no jail time

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R.A. “Andy” Strickland has turned in his tarnished badge.

Before pleading guilty to three criminal charges in a video hearing Oct. 23, Strickland signed an agreement resigning as Colleton County sheriff and resigned his Class I law enforcement certificate. Those documents were delivered to Gov. Henry McMaster Monday.

In a plea agreement between Strickland and the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, the former Colleton County sheriff pled guilty to three charges: two filed based on an investigation conducted by South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the State Grand Jury and one involving an unrelated domestic violence incident at Strickland’s home in November of last year.

The State Grand Jury issued a 15-count indictment against Strickland, covering a variety of breach of trust and misconduct in office allegations.

The plea agreement contained two counts: one breach of trust with fraudulent intent charge and one misconduct in office charge. The agreement also changed the domestic violence charge to a third-degree assault and battery.

In the felony breach of trust indictment, Strickland admitted that while he was sheriff, he had deputies and staff performing services for him, his businesses and on his property for his personal benefit during their work hours. Strickland conceded he used county property and resources for his personal benefit and for personal work on his properties, businesses and for personal concerns.

Concerning the misconduct in office charge, Strickland admitted to using his control over county time, property and resources to facilitate and continue an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate county employee.

On those charges, Judge R. Markley Dennis Jr. gave Strickland a suspended five-year prison and probation for five years. Dennis also ordered Strickland to serve 200 hours of community service and submit to random drug and alcohol testing.

Under the plea agreement, Strickland also agreed to resign as sheriff and permanently relinquish his law enforcement credentials.

Strickland was not ordered to make restitution to the county. Colleton County Administrator Kevin Griffin said County Council voted to take Strickland off the county’s payroll in March when Gov. McMaster ordered the sheriff to relinquish the duties of his office until the domestic violence court case against him was resolved.

In addition, Griffin said, “to my knowledge, all funds in question have been repaid and the equipment has been returned to the sheriff’s office.”

The third-degree assault and battery charge concerned his physical attack on his girlfriend the night of Nov. 7, 2019 after Strickland found a text message on the victim’s cell phone that he wrongly believed contained evidence of the victim’s infidelity.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said he wanted to thank the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the FBI, the Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office and the State Grand Jury Section for their excellent work on investigating and prosecuting the case.

Several members of the Racial Justice Network went to the front lawn of the Colleton County Courthouse Monday at noon to voice their displeasure of the sentence handed down to Strickland.

After pleading guilty to two charges connected to his improper use of sheriff’s office personnel and equipment, Strickland was given a suspended prison term and placed on probation for five years.

The Racial Justice Network wants the sentence to be changed to 10 years behind bars, the maximum sentence for a felony misconduct of office charge.

They also called for a courthouse lawn protest at noon on Saturday and asked that those who have been mistreated by Strickland during his tenure as sheriff attend the protest.

“Friday Oct. 23 can be deemed a sad day for the citizen of Colleton county when a duly elected official admits that he violated a sacred trust with the people that he was elected to protect and serve by taking advantage of their tax dollars and physical resources. We are very much aware that there is nothing that can be done for what our former convicted sheriff has done,” said Ed Williams, president of the Colleton County NAACP. “However, the question needs to be asked, why a person with so many charges be let off with five years’ probation, 200 hours of community service, and no restitution to the citizens of the improper use of property and labor from those under his command being paid on county time?” He also encouraged everyone to vote.

South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Lt. Charles Ghent, an Edisto Beach resident, has been serving as interim Colleton County sheriff since his appointment to the post by Gov. McMaster on Nov. 22, 2019, immediately after Strickland was indicted on a charge of second-degree domestic violence. McMaster could not remove him from office until the indictment was secured.

Strickland went on a voluntary leave of absence from the sheriff’s office following his arrest on the domestic violence charge on Feb. 13.

Strickland’s guilty pleas came 12 days before voters go to the polls to choose the county’s next sheriff.

On the general election ballot, voters will decide between Republican Buddy Hill, who served as Strickland’s chief deputy for seven years then the past year for current Sheriff Charles Ghent, and Democrat former deputy Alyssa Bodison.

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