Crime & Courts

Investigation Into Hampton County Sheriff’s Office Escalates

Latest on probe of “missing equipment …”

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There’s been an apparent escalation of the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigation into allegations of “missing equipment” at the Hampton County sheriff’s office under former sheriff T.C. Smalls, sources familiar with the probe confirmed to this media outlet.

According to these sources, at least one search warrant was executed last week in connection with the sheriff’s office inquiry – which is separate from a broader investigation into Hampton County’s finances.

SLED confirmed its investigation into “alleged financial irregularities” at the sheriff’s office in February of this year, noting the probe was requested by sheriff Anthony Russell shortly after he took office in January of 2023. Russell sent a letter (.pdf) to SLED on January 30, 2023 asking the agency to look into the missing equipment, which he indicated was uncovered following a review of financial records – specifically “purchase order invoices” which were compared to existing inventory.

“As a result of my findings, I am requesting an official forensic audit,” Russell wrote.

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Russell’s letter did not provide any information detailing the items alleged to be missing – nor has SLED released any information related to its “active and ongoing” investigation of the matter. The agency’s director of public information, Renée Wunderlich, had no updates for us when we reached to her out for comment last week.

Sources familiar with the status of the investigation say one of Smalls’ former top lieutenants – current Estill, S.C. assistant police chief Justin Edwards – is among those drawing attention from law enforcement. Edwards, 43, of Brunson, S.C., is a former Hampton County sergeant who spent more than two decades at the sheriff’s office – including sixteen years under Smalls.

Multiple items – including unspecified equipment – were reportedly taken from an address associated with Edwards during a search last week.

Several others are also reportedly under the microscope as well, including the former sheriff.

Smalls, incidentally, has yet to comment on the investigation to any media outlet – including ours. Assuming that changes, we will obviously let our audience know.

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Hampton

RELATED | HAMPTON COUNTY MISMANAGEMENT PROMPTS INVESTIGATION

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Smalls was elected sheriff of Hampton County in 2006 and took office in January 2007. He declined to seek a fifth term in 2022. Smalls was a longtime ally of the influential family of convicted killer Alex Murdaugh. During Murdaugh’s murder trial, however, he was called to the stand to impeach Murdaugh’s testimony about the installation of blue lights on the latter’s sport utility vehicle. According to Smalls, Murdaugh never received permission from his office to have these blue lights installed.

Sources familiar with the situation told us the debate over these lights is one of the rare occasions in which Murdaugh was actually telling the truth.

As for the broader financial debacle in Hampton County, our Callie Lyons penned an article on that situation earlier this week. According to her report, SLED is investigating former county administrator Rose Dobson-Elliott over allegations of fraud and breach of trust. Meanwhile, the S.C. Department of Revenue (SCDOR) is investigating the county over its decade-long failure to provide quarterly reports on the use of sales tax for capital projects.

FITSNews has submitted FOIA requests in an attempt to dig deeper into the situations impacting the county’s finances and will provide updates as they become available.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

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 and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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