Strickland (copy)

Colleton County Sheriff Andy Strickland was arrested on a charge of second-degree domestic violence Saturday Nov. 9, 2019. File/AP

State authorities filed charges Saturday against the sheriff of Colleton County, accusing him of repeatedly punching a woman in the face.

Robert Anderson Strickland Jr., 40, was booked into the Colleton County jail Saturday on a charge of second-degree domestic violence, and has since been released. His bail was set at $5,000.

Strickland punched a member of his household in the face several times around 10 p.m. Thursday then took their cellphone, preventing her from calling 911, according to an arrest warrant affidavit filed by the State Law Enforcement Division.

State police say he then tried to flee in a vehicle, which he damaged.

The victim suffered injuries to her face as well as a defensive wound to their arm, according to the affidavit.

If found guilty of the misdemeanor, Strickland faces up to three years behind bars, as well as a fine between $2,500 and $5,000.

Strickland became the youngest sheriff in South Carolina when he was elected as a Democrat in 2012, and he was reelected as a Republican in 2016. He'll be up for reelection in 2020, against at least five other law enforcement veterans who've announced plans to unseat him.

In August, The Post and Courier uncovered threatening messages Strickland sent his staff, demanding they "remain loyal and support him."

"Read between the lines," the message read. "From here on out, zero tolerance is now in effect. ... Stay in your lane."

That warning came after Strickland ripped into a county official who questioned the $1,500.30 bill he racked up at the Marriott Myrtle Beach during the S.C. Sheriffs' Association conference this summer.

He later acknowledged that he put an extra room on the county’s dime so his children would have their own room. He attended the conference with a woman he was seeing at the time, another Colleton County official.

Strickland is the 14th Palmetto State sheriff accused of breaking the laws he swore to uphold over the past decade.

The Post and Courier’s “Above the Law” report earlier this year documented how state laws help perpetuate a culture of secrecy that creates a breeding ground for abuse.

The S.C. Constitution requires employees to serve “at the pleasure” of sheriffs, a situation that criminal justice experts and watchdogs say is a recipe for unfair retribution against those who speak out. The state has weak whistleblower laws, making it less likely for honest deputies and staff to come forward.

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Reach Sara Coello at 843-937-5705 and follow her on Twitter @smlcoello.

Tony Bartelme is senior projects reporter for The Post and Courier. He has earned national honors from the Nieman, Scripps, Loeb and National Press foundations and is a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Reach him at 843-937-5554 and @tbartelme