Dr. Christopher Colin Ward, a local physician who volunteered on the Charleston Police Department's SWAT team, has been cleared of the sex charge he was arrested on last month.

But his defense attorney, Andy Savage of Charleston, said Tuesday that Charleston detectives jailed the emergency-room doctor based on scant evidence and might have done so to avoid a perception of partiality toward one of their own.

Instead, Savage said, they should have asked an outside agency to handle the case and more thoroughly discussed the evidence with prosecutors before the arrest.

Police officials and prosecutors on Tuesday also provided differing accounts about their level of communication before Ward was sent to jail.

Ward, 44, of Indian Corn Street on Daniel Island had faced a count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct in what Savage called a consensual relationship with the accuser. The felony is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

A Medical University Hospital employee who works at facilities statewide, Ward has struggled to find work because of the arrest, his attorney said. He has been free on bail since then.

"For someone who is a high-profile guy in the community, the damage is done with that arrest," Savage said. "Human nature is to think that when someone is arrested, there must be evidence of criminal conduct."

That evidence was not apparent, Savage argued.

But Charleston Police Department spokesman Charles Francis said investigators thoroughly reviewed evidence and statements, including two from Ward, during a meeting with a prosecutor days before the arrest. All decided, Francis said, that they had enough cause to pursue a warrant.

"We were not concerned with any perception of bias," Francis said in a statement, "but rather in conducting a thorough and complete investigation."

Assistant Solicitor Anne Williams of the Ninth Circuit Solicitor's Office, who was not included in that meeting, ultimately made the decision late last week to drop the charge. She said a different prosecutor, Timothy Finch, had been provided with only "general information" before the arrest.

As an unpaid reserve police officer for five years, Ward served on the city's SWAT team. He was trained in tactics, but he also could serve as a field medic if a teammate were to get hurt. Fellow officers called him "Doc."

When The Post and Courier profiled him in 2009, Ward said he would respond with the SWAT team when he wasn't working as an ER doctor.

"I love it," he told the newspaper. "I don't get paid. I just go do it."

Authorities took Ward's pistol and his badge soon after the allegations surfaced Dec. 6, Savage said.

After Ward was jailed Jan. 3 in Berkeley County, Williams said she considered the complete evidence file and decided that it would not have supported the charge in a courtroom.

Prosecutors knew "early on that we may not be able to move forward with a successful prosecution," she said.

It would have been difficult to prove that Ward knew that his accuser was somehow incapacitated at the time of the alleged sexual contact, Williams said. That's one of the elements of the charge that must be proved, according to state law.

The woman had told the police that she met Ward on Dec. 3 at a restaurant and drank wine there. She had another drink at his house.

Ward then told her that she was too drunk to drive, an arrest affidavit stated, so she took a Xanax pill from Ward and went to sleep.

During the night, the woman told investigators, she awoke several times to Ward performing sex acts on her.

Since his arrest, Savage said, Ward has cooperated with detectives by submitting to a taped interview and providing a list of former girlfriends.

Savage pointed to a supplemental police report explaining that a judge in early December refused to sign a search warrant for Ward's house because the officers didn't produce enough evidence of a crime.

The short time it took prosecutors to drop the charge after officers made the arrest a month later, Savage said, indicated that the police still lacked evidence.

"In law enforcement, the way the whole culture works is based on an arrest," he said. "You can arrest a lot of people but never get a conviction, and that doesn't do much good for the community."

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.