A grand jury indicted Greenville County's embattled sheriff Tuesday, capping a seven-month period that officials said threatened to reduce the credibility of the department after the sheriff refused to resign in the midst of a sex scandal.
Greenville County Sheriff Will Lewis faces charges of misconduct in office and obstructing a lawful state investigation into his conduct.
Both charges carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and fines.
The indictments do not offer details about what the sheriff did but 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said additional charges against Lewis are possible.
An investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division is still active and ongoing.
Greenville County Council Chairman Butch Kirven said the indictments came quicker than he anticipated but said the filing of charges is necessary for the Greenville community to get the law enforcement leadership it deserves.
"You reduce your credibility as a public-serving force when you are operating under a cloud like this," said Kirven, who was first elected to the council in 2004.
"We've been waiting for the other shoe to drop and today it finally did," he said.
SLED spokesman Thom Berry said the sheriff was served with copies of his indictment papers around noon at the Law Enforcement Center — the same downtown Greenville building where Lewis reports for duty at the Sheriff's Department.
The sheriff's wife was seen with Lewis at the time he was served, Berry said he was told.
When asked whether investigators planned to search Lewis' home, Berry said, "We will go wherever the investigation may take us."
Following news of the indictments, Gov. Henry McMaster quickly signed an executive order suspending Lewis from office. He appointed former Greenville County Sheriff Johnny Mack Brown to serve as interim sheriff.
Brown, who served as sheriff for six terms starting in 1972, told a Greenville TV station he looked forward to the challenge.
The state has been investigating Lewis since October. That's when Savanah Nabors, a 23-year-old woman Lewis hired as his assistant, sued him, saying he drugged her and had sex with her without her consent during a business trip to Charlotte.
Her 38-page lawsuit included a number of salacious details, including links to 11 audio recordings of conversations between Nabors and the sheriff about their relationship. One of the details addressed her allegedly being given a drink while alone with Lewis in a hotel room and waking up to him on top of her having sex.
Lewis admitted to having sex with Nabors but denied allegations of rape.
"The allegations of rape and stalking — harassment — that's completely 100 percent false," Lewis said during an October press conference in which he described the incident as a "moral failure."
Nabors' attorney, Kyle White, told The Post and Courier she looked forward to her day in court.
That lapse in judgment prompted the 12 members of Greenville County Council to unanimously pass a resolution calling for Lewis to resign.
"The public expects and deserves their sheriff to be a person possessing and displaying the highest qualities of integrity, honor, leadership, duty and selfless service," the Oct. 24 resolution said.
Lewis refused to step down. Days later, McMaster would join the public calls for him to resign.
"It would be in the public's best interest for him to voluntarily step aside," McMaster said at the time.
"If I could remove him from office, I most certainly would," McMaster said in a quote the governor's office re-issued Tuesday.
Since 2010, nine sheriffs in South Carolina have been convicted of improper behavior. Among them is Jason Booth, a former Saluda County sheriff, who resigned after using an inmate to build a party shed at his home.
Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon in 2012 was charged with third-degree assault and battery after admitting he slapped a handcuffed man in the face. He was arrested and booked in the jail that bears his name. Charged with a misdemeanor, Cannon was eligible for pre-trial intervention and remains in office.
In Lexington County, former Sheriff James Mett was sentenced to one year and one day in prison after pleading guilty in a corruption scheme. Federal prosecutors said he took money from a restaurant owner in exchange for keeping employees from being arrested for being in the country illegally.
Lewis is scheduled to be arraigned in Greenville County on Thursday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.