DeWitt takes oath in private

DeWitt

A week after he was charged with drunken driving and hit-and-run, Berkeley County Sheriff Wayne DeWitt was sworn into office Sunday for his next term.

DeWitt, 63, took the oath at about 4 p.m., administered by County Clerk of Courts Mary Brown at a home in Berkeley County, according to Berkeley County Republican Party Chairman Josh Whitley. He would not comment further on the location.

"The clerk of court has confirmed to me as party chairman that the sheriff was sworn in today, consistent with state law," Whitley said Sunday. Brown asked Whitley to handle media inquiries. DeWitt skipped a public event Friday at Berkeley County Council Chambers where 10 other county officers were sworn in by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott. State law required that he be sworn in by the end of the day Tuesday to retain his post.

DeWitt, who was driving a county-owned vehicle, was arrested early Dec. 28 and charged with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of a crash with personal injury. He was released later that day on a $10,997 unsecured personal recognizance bond.

DeWitt has remained on the job since his arrest, but day-to-day operations are being handled by Chief Deputy Rick Ollic.

DeWitt has made no statements since his arrest. Robert Wyndham, DeWitt's attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

Local TV stations reported Friday that DeWitt had taken the oath earlier that day, but Brown told The Post and Courier then that she had not sworn him in. State law requires that every sheriff make the pledge in the presence of a county's clerk of court, though the process does not necessarily have to be done in public view. Several county council members have said they would rather see the judicial system play out than call on DeWitt to step aside until his trial.

County Supervisor Bill Peagler said Sunday he stands by his earlier statement that he will not issue judgment until all of the facts are presented.

Peagler "will work with anyone that the people of Berkeley County elect to make our community a better place," county spokesman Michael Mule said Sunday.

If DeWitt is indicted as a result of the DUI crash, Gov. Nikki Haley could suspend him from office until he is acquitted or until the case is otherwise disposed of, according to state law. She could also appoint a "suitable person" to hold office during that time.

Some residents have called for his firing or resignation, even enlisting help from the National Action Network to protest outside Friday's ceremony. They also created a change.org petition last week asking Gov. Nikki Haley to remove DeWitt from office. It had gathered less than 1,000 signatures as of Sunday afternoon.

DeWitt has been a law enforcement officer in South Carolina for more than 40 years, and has served as Berkeley's top cop since 1994. In the June Republican Primary, he received 59 percent of the vote, defeating challengers Brian Adams and Matt Smoak. He did not have opposition in November's general election.

The S.C. Highway Patrol said DeWitt was alone Dec. 28 when he was driving a truck that rear-ended a car at Red Bank Road and Henry E. Brown Jr. Boulevard, injuring a 21-year-old man. The pickup left the scene, but Hanahan police officers later stopped it.

The driver of the Nissan was treated and released from Trident Medical Center.

A field sobriety test determined DeWitt was under the influence. He refused a Datamaster Breathalyzer test.

DeWitt is facing up to a year in jail on the charges. Because he refused the breath test, his license was automatically suspended for six months, but he can apply for those conditions to be waived. A Feb. 11 court date was set for the DUI charge. A court date for the hit-and-run charge has not yet been set.

The Post and Courier has requested records of the arrest from state Highway Patrol, the Hanahan Police Department and the Sheriff's Office under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.