Sheriff Don Reynolds, Chris Wilkes. Laurens County.
Politics

Embattled South Carolina Sheriff Spars With Challenger

Sheriff Don Reynolds, LEO Chris Wilkes address constituents ahead of Republican Primary. 

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Two conservatives vying for the highest law-enforcement office in Laurens County, South Carolina faced off last week in a candidate forum sponsored by the Laurens County Republican Party (LCGOP) and co-hosted by the Lakelands Young Republicans Club (LYRC).

At about 6:30 p.m. EST on Thursday (May 23, 2024), retired Clinton Police Department (CPD) Lieutenant Chris Wilkes, 32, shook hands with two-time incumbent sheriff Donald “Don” Reynolds, 72, before jointly engaging in a twenty-minute forum moderated by LCGOP Chairman Luke Rankin.

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BLUE WALL OF SILENCE …

Laurens County Sheriff's Office. Don Reynolds. Chris Wilkes.
Laurens County Sheriff Donald “Don” Reynolds on Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Andrew Fancher)

Frequent readers of FITSNews are undoubtedly aware of our ongoing relationship with the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO), a war-torn department enveloped by scandals involving serial dog killings, flaccid dick pictures, wrongful incarcerations, preoccupied deputies and flagrant coverups.

In December 2023, Reynolds came under intense media scrutiny for failing to address an LCSO dog-shooting scandal. He later assailed our outlet via a 526-word status update addled with blatant misinformation on Facebook.

Laurens County residents thereafter provided more photos of LCSO Sergeant Geoffrey Brown shooting animals throughout his jurisdiction, forcing Reynolds to terminate his scandal-scarred deputy. Not for shooting the animals, though, but for disseminating naked hot tub selfies through a Grindr account. 

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RELATED | WHISTLEBLOWER ALLEGES COVER-UP

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Meanwhile, FITSNews continued its investigation into the lack of criminal charges filed against Johnathan Devin Holliday, an active LCSO deputy who returned to work within two weeks of being arrested for threatening to “f*cking kill” his fiancée on April 21, 2023.

About one year later, LCSO failed to address the accidental hospitalization of a Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) member – or reports from whistleblowers of the Laurens Police Department (LPD) implicating Reynolds in an unrelated scandal involving officer Casey Jones.

Rather than addressing rampant allegations of LCSO misconduct, Reynolds has remained steadfast in rebuilding the county’s “blue wall of silence” alongside LPD chief Heath Copeland. Under their leadership, the departments have lost approximately 90 combined law enforcement officers.

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“I WANT TO SERVE YOU …”

Laurens County Sheriff's Office. Don Reynolds. Chris Wilkes.
LEO Chris Wilkes addressing voters on Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Andrew Fancher)

“If any of y’all know me, you know I take this job seriously,” said Reynolds during his opening remarks on Thursday. “Without a strong sheriff’s office, y’all are in a lot of trouble, and I know that.”

The former S.C. Highway Patrol (SCHP) officer was first elected as sheriff of Laurens County in June 2016 — when FITSNews embroiled then-incumbent Ricky Chastain for exchanging hundreds of sexually explicit Snapchats and thousands of X-rated iMessages on taxpayer time. 

“Don’t think that because you’re an officer, you’re better than anyone,” rebutted Wilkes during his opening remarks after Reynolds. “I’m running for sheriff because I want to serve you. I want to serve the county … I don’t care about the power it holds or the money that it holds.”

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Hells Angels. LCSO.

RELATED | SC DEPUTY COLLIDES WITH HELLS ANGEL

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Since announcing his campaign in January 2024, Wilkes’ Facebook page has amassed over 156,830 views across 37 video announcements. His campaign promises have furthermore prompted Reynolds to redress age-old policies while spotlighting administrative woes.

“We’re out here to put people in jail for violating the law,” responded Reynolds when questioned about illicit drug usage and subsequent incarcerations in-county. “I cannot afford to be out there worrying about how [an inmate] will get his GED … [Victims] want justice.”

As for Wilkes? He wishes to implement monthly outreach programs in conjunction with the Johnson Detention Center — including but not limited to in-prison ministry, which Reynolds indefinitely suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020.

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“HAVE A NICE DAY …”

Laurens County Sheriff's Office. Don Reynolds. Chris Wilkes.
Laurens County Sheriff Donald “Don” Reynolds addressing voters on Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Andrew Fancher)

“[Inmates] are people like us,” responded Wilkes. “If we take God out of the picture, we will fail them … We also need to bring back the GED program … We need to help [inmates] as much as we can because if we make them a productive citizen, then we’re going to save money.”

Leaving citizens alone who aren’t breaking the law or causing problems might be another way to save money.

On October 30, 2023, LCSO deputy Matthew Priest charged civilian Timothy Mahaffey with “resisting arrest” for exercising his constitutional right to deny identification while walking against traffic in Kinards, S.C. Per body-worn camera (BCW) footage obtained by this media outlet, Priest told Mahaffey to “have a nice day” before “changing [his] mind” and body-slamming the civilian into an F-150 pickup truck on U.S. Route 76.

The 44-year-old was thereafter booked into the detention center.

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While LCSO Deputy Timothy Byrd swore under oath that Mahaffey resisted arrest, prosecutors in the office of eighth circuit solicitor David Stumbo dropped all charges against the defendant upon reviewing the BWC footage. Mahaffey was subsequently released from jail after fifteen days.

On April 2, 2024, FITSNews requested a statement from Reynolds regarding disciplinary action against Priest or Byrd— who appear to have categorically lied under oath regarding Mahaffey’s arrest. Two weeks later, we reminded the incumbent of our outstanding request in a second email that remains unanswered.

“One thing my opponent said … ‘our job is to lock everyone up,’” said Wilkes. “That’s the problem that we’re having right now in America. The jails are full. The prisons are full. Lock people up that shot somebody and killed somebody!”

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“I WILL BE TRANSPARENT …”

Laurens County Sheriff's Office. Don Reynolds. Chris Wilkes.
Chris Wilkes interacting with voters on Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Andrew Fancher)

When the candidates were asked about S.915 — a contentious bill seeking to reconfigure and bestow authoritative powers to the Palmetto State’s lead healthy agency — Reynolds backtracked to the topic of LCSO’s role in Laurens County. 

“We take criminals to jail,” said Reynolds. “Not ‘everybody.’ I hope ‘everybody’ is not a criminal. And we’ve had preachers for a while. So those are whimsical and misleading statements … I will not stand in the way of people’s freedoms and what the Constitution says.”

As of this publication, LCSO’s overtime payments total $294,668.59—approximately $144,668 over the department’s annual budget of $150,000. According to Wilkes, this emphasizes the need for more personnel and a desire for less restrictive policies.

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Wilkes also credited this video for abolishing LCSO’s “no-beard policy” and hopes to dissolve the incumbent’s “no visible tattoo policy” if elected. Wilkes has furthermore promised to allocate portions of his annual salary towards recruitment efforts as needed.

“I really do want to help Laurens County,” Wilkes said in his closing remarks. “I want to bring the programs back to Laurens County. I want to bring the deputies back to Laurens County … I want to be humble enough to admit to you when I’m wrong.”

“I realize there’s people that need help,” Reynolds concluded during Thursday’s forum. “But I cannot stand around and hold somebody’s hand and pretend like they want to be a good citizen. I’m going to help y’all hard-working citizens [and] try to protect your persons and your property.”

On Tuesday, June 11, 2024, registered voters will choose between Reynolds or Wilkes as the highest law-enforcement officer of Laurens County.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Andrew Fancher (Travis Bell)

Andrew Fancher is a Lone Star Emmy award-winning journalist from Dallas, Texas. Cut from a bloodline of outlaws and lawmen alike, he was the first of his family to graduate college which was accomplished with honors. Got a story idea or news tip for Andy? Email him directly and connect with him socially across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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5 comments

Jeff Mattox Top fan May 28, 2024 at 8:45 pm

Running a SO like the Keystone Cops is a long tradition of the thick blue line. It’s somewhat easy to understand if you consider business degrees take a bit longer than jobs that carry authority.

Reply
AC Top fan May 29, 2024 at 7:04 am

Where is SLED of the FBI on all of this? They seem to be asleep at the wheel, violating citizens civil rights is supposed to be the cornerstone of their mandates.

Reply
Sheriff Buford T. Justice Top fan May 29, 2024 at 3:57 pm

I think Cowboy Don Reynolds might want to think about packing up his stuff.

Reply
Ron Spence Top fan May 30, 2024 at 6:11 am

Do you have anyone in IT that can solve the problem with me having to sign in to view each story. After I log in I shouldn’t have to log in again unless I leave the site. It is damn frustrating to say the least. I like getting the local SC news from you but you make it hard to do business with you. This is my third time addressing this issue and have yet to hear from you. If you don’t want me as a subscriber just let me know.

Reply
JustSomeGuy Top fan June 12, 2024 at 9:28 am

The “embattled” sheriff won his primary with 72.4% of the vote, winning all but 2 precincts.

Reply

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