Lewis sworn in as Berkeley sheriff

Duane Lewis takes the oath of office administered by the Honorable Kristi Lee Harrington as his wife Janet and son, Bethea, 8, watch Friday, June 12, 2015 at the Berkeley County Courthouse. Paul Zoeller/Staff

Duane Lewis on Friday became the third man to serve as Berkeley County sheriff this year.

Lewis, 51, won a special election Tuesday after a three-month campaign that included 14 Republican candidates, one Democrat and three write-ins. In official results, Lewis received 47 percent of the votes to Democrat Anthony Smalls’ 20 percent. Write-in candidates received a third of the votes.

“As a young kid growing up in Goose Creek, this has been my dream,” said an emotional Lewis, a third generation law enforcement officer. “I am a prime example of accomplishing a dream.”

Lewis, a former Santee Cooper Law Enforcement deputy chief, follows Wayne DeWitt, the 20-year sheriff who stepped down Feb. 4 after he was charged with driving under the influence in connection with a Dec. 28 accident. DeWitt took the oath of office Jan. 4 before stepping down a month later, and retired Berkeley County Chief Deputy Butch Henerey was sworn in as interim sheriff on Feb. 20.

Lewis’ first act as sheriff Friday was to make his son Bethea, 8, a special deputy.

Lewis also plans to form a narcotics unit to deal with the county’s drug problem, he said.

“I was reflecting on all the folks that I’ve talked to in the neighborhoods about their problems and issues,” he said. “We are going to do our very best to help them. We’re going to go after the drugs. We are going to solve the burglaries. ... We will put the people first.”

In the wake of the May 5 Republican runoff, questions arose about Lewis’ background, and supporters of his opponent, Brian Adams, formed a group called Concerned Voters of Berkeley County to push a write-in campaign.

“It was a tough and stressful election, but the people of Berkeley County obviously trust me and believe in me,” Lewis said. “I am proud to say Berkeley County has a new sheriff.”

The standing-room-only crowd at the swearing-in included at least five men who also ran for the post in addition to Mike Penn and a handful of members of the Concerned Voters group.

“This is a tough pill to swallow, but it is what it is,” said Penn, who has pledged that the group will tackle other political issues in the county. “We are moving on.”

Last week, members of the group took a complaint regarding possible political corruption by Lewis to the state Attorney General’s Office and spoke with a State Law Enforcement Division officer, according to Attorney General spokesman Mark Powell. The material, which alleges Lewis knowingly filed false information on his election paperwork, will be reviewed by SLED and the Attorney General’s Office, as is protocol, Powell said.

SLED Chief Mark Keel, who said he has known Lewis for a long time as “a man of integrity,” on Friday pledged his support to the Berkeley County sheriff during the ceremony.

“All the resources that SLED has are at your disposal to help the people of Berkeley County,” he said.

Asked later about the complaint, Keel said, “I’m not aware of (the complaint), but if the AG sends it to us and asks us to investigate, we’ll investigate.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.