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Former Greenville Sheriff’s 2019 Conviction Upheld By South Carolina Supreme Court

Will Lewis’ misconduct in office verdict stands …

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The 2019 conviction of former Greenville county sheriff Will Lewis on a misconduct in office charge has been unanimously upheld by the South Carolina supreme court.

According to the court’s ruling (.pdf) – which was published on Wednesday – all five justices affirmed Lewis’ conviction, although one of them issued a separate concurrence.

Lewis, readers will recall, was convicted of misconduct in office in October 2019 after he abused his office and wasted taxpayer money in pursuit of an extramarital affair with a subordinate, 27-year-old sheriff’s assistant Savannah Nabors.

Upon his conviction, Lewis was statutorily removed from office – although he has remained free on an appeals bond since November of 2019. His bond was granted by S.C. circuit court judge G. Thomas Cooper Jr.

The Lewis scandal began in August 2017 when Nabors publicly accused the 45-year-old law man of drugging and raping her on a business trip to Charlotte, North Carolina that March. Nabors originally made the rape allegation in a since-deleted blog post that was exclusively covered by this news outlet.

“This man, who is twice my age, (who) I looked to for protection … used his power, his authority in his position, and the trust that he had built to coerce me into allowing him into my hotel room on a business trip out of town,” Nabors wrote in the post. “He forced himself on me. He took advantage of me. He brainwashed me from the moment I met him. It was all a set up. It was all for this moment where he took every last piece of me.  And I had nowhere to run.”

(Click to view)

(Via: Greenville County)

Nabors (above) expanded on these allegations in a bombshell civil lawsuit filed against Lewis in October of 2017.  In that pleading, she graphically detailed the rape allegation – claiming she was drifting in and out of consciousness in a Charlotte hotel room as Lewis had sex with her.

“(She) remembers regaining consciousness when the Sheriff was on top of her, having sex with her,” the lawsuit claimed. “It took (her) a second to realize what was happening and she had no idea how long it had gone on. The Sheriff asked (her) if she was ready for him to ‘finish,’ and (she) said yes. The Sheriff then giggled, making a joke about how long he could ‘last,’ and added that he was sure (Nabors) was not used to that. (Nabors) then lost consciousness again.”

Lewis admitted to having an affair with Nabors but denied drugging or raping her. A settlement in the civil case was reached in October 2018.

In addition to breaking the story of Lewis’ alleged sexual assault, my news outlet was the first in the state to call for his resignation back in October of 2017. These calls were made after recordings released in connection with Nabors’ civil suit indicated Lewis was attempting to further an extramarital affair with her on the taxpayer dime.

One such recording captured Lewis plotting a romantic getaway for the two of them (using taxpayer funds) to a law enforcement conference in Reno, Nevada.  In another recording, Lewis was heard attempting to coax Nabors into traveling with him to the Reno event.

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A jury of Lewis’ peers found him guilty on one count of misconduct in office – but found him not guilty on a second count.

Lewis sought to have the one conviction tossed – arguing that the charge against him was “constitutionally vague” and that the criminal indictment against him failed to specify the commission of any unlawful act.

That indictment accused the former sheriff of “misusing public resources and abusing the power and authority of his office for the corrupt purpose of pursuing or facilitating an adulterous relationship.”

Writing for the majority, chief justice Donald Beatty rejected Lewis’ claims – determining that South Carolina’s misconduct on office laws are based on “settled legal meanings” and that the statue “clearly applies to the conduct at issue here.”

According to Beatty, “throughout trial, evidence painted a picture of corruption and misconduct that predates our statutory misconduct statute.”

“Simply because a statute uses undefined terms or could have been drafted more precisely does not render it unconstitutionally vague,” Beatty concluded. “We also find meritless Lewis’ reliance on harmless hypotheticals which arguably implicate the statute. Rather than considering, for example, whether using a government-issued cell phone for all personal as well as business calls would qualify as ‘official misconduct’ or ‘corruption,’ our inquiry is focused solely on whether Lewis’s conduct clearly falls within the statute.”

And according to the justices, it did.

(Click to view)

(Via: Greenville County)

Beatty also shot down the allegation that the indictment against Lewis was “insufficient” in its specific allegations against him – resulting in Lewis being unable to defend himself properly at trail. According to Beatty, the indictment against the former lawman not only correctly “put the defendant on notice of the elements of the offense” but allowed him to make a determination as to how he would plead and provided the trial court with the information it needed to sentence him following his conviction by a jury of his peers.

“The indictment satisfied all three considerations required by our jurisprudence, and it is clear from the record that Lewis was not surprised and certainly not ambushed at trial by the allegations against him,” Beatty wrote. “Additionally, even if the indictment was questionable, further specificity was available by reviewing the discovery materials. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in declining to quash the indictment.”

While the court refused to vacate Lewis’ conviction, justice John Few noted in a concurring opinion that he agreed with the disgraced law enforcement leaders’ contention that the states’ misconduct in office statute (§ 8-1-80) is sufficiently vague as to open the door for “arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

Few further argued that the state failed to prove that Lewis perpetrated a fraud on taxpayers, even though S.C. sixteenth circuit solicitor Kevin Brackett told jurors the former sheriff used “money that (was) given to him for one purpose … for another, not wanting to tell anybody about it.”

“These arguments correctly paint Lewis as a fraud, in the term’s colloquial sense, but they do not satisfy the legal definition of criminal fraud,” Few wrote. “If the trial court had defined fraud for the jury, in my opinion, the jury could not have convicted him of misconduct in office on the basis of the state’s fraud argument.”

“What the state argues here might be breach of trust, but it is not fraud,” Few concluded.

My view on all this? I believe the supreme court ruled correctly, however the concerns raised by Few must be addressed as part of a broader overhaul – and strengthening – of state law (see here and here).

Otherwise, future misconduct in office charges could have trouble sticking …

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THE RULING …

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(Via: S.C. Supreme Court)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Via: FITSNews)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that Mike Schmidt-era Philadelphia Phillies’ lid pictured above).

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