COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina’s governor is calling for the resignation of a sheriff who acknowledged having sex with his assistant, but state law says no one can force a sheriff out of office without a criminal charge.
Public pressure continues to mount against Greenville Sheriff Will Lewis. Gov. Henry McMaster’s Twitter posts Friday asking him to step down joined a growing chorus from earlier in the week that includes the Greenville County Council and Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant .
But no one in South Carolina has the power to remove a sheriff who has not been charged with a crime once he is elected to a four-year term. Lewis was elected last November, beating a fellow Republican who had served for 16 years.
Lewis, 41, gave a statement earlier this month acknowledging that he had sex with a 23-year-old assistant whom he hired after he was elected. She accompanied him on at least one out-of-town trip.
The woman sued the sheriff on Oct. 16, saying she was drugged and he had sex with her without her consent in a Charlotte, North Carolina, hotel room. The sheriff then denied the allegations during a press conference. He acknowledged having sex with the woman but said it was consensual.
The State Law Enforcement Division in South Carolina is investigating Lewis. No charges have been filed. Lewis has issued statements twice saying the allegations of harassment, stalking and rape in the lawsuit are false and he won’t resign.
“I did have a consensual encounter earlier this year and for that, deeply sorry doesn’t cover it. But that’s all I can say,” Lewis said in a statement before TV cameras and reporters earlier this month.
After that comment, Bryant said Lewis had no business staying as a law enforcement leader.
“Law enforcement has a sacred duty to protect our wives and daughters from predators, and we have a predator,” Bryant said on Twitter.
If Lewis is charged with a crime, McMaster is allowed to suspend him from office while the case goes through court.
“It would be in public’s best interest for him to voluntarily step aside,” McMaster said in his Twitter statement Friday. “If I could remove him from office, I most certainly would.”
Lewis received only 19 percent of the vote in a five-way Republican primary for sheriff in Greenville County in June 2016, while the incumbent, Steve Loftis, got 42 percent.
But without a majority, Lewis got to face Loftis directly in the runoff and won by less than 500 votes.
Loftis campaigned hard against Lewis, releasing documents about how Lewis abruptly resigned in the middle of a shift in 2011 after a female deputy filed a complaint about him kissing her in front of an arrested suspect.
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