Berkeley sheriff skips oath ceremony

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott swears in new Berkeley County Superivsor Bill Peagler.

MONCKS CORNER - The clock is ticking for Berkeley County Sheriff Wayne DeWitt if he intends to hold on to his office.

According to state law, DeWitt, who is facing multiple charges in connection with a hit-and-run early Sunday, has until Tuesday to be sworn in as the county's top cop.

"He's still the elected sheriff, but to officially start his term, he would have to take the oath by the end of the day Tuesday," said Jarrod Bruder, executive director of the S.C. Sheriffs Association.

DeWitt was absent Friday from a ceremony in County Council chambers that included the installation of 10 newly elected county officials. The sheriff, who was re-elected in November to the office he has held for 20 years, backed out of the ceremony earlier this week.

He is still on the job, although day-to-day operations are being handled by Chief Deputy Rick Ollic.

Berkeley County Clerk of Court Mary Brown said Friday she has not sworn him in. State law says that every sheriff must 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.

"A judge could do it (administer the oath) but I have to be present," she said, adding, "I have no plans as far as a date and time to do it."

WCIV-TV reported that DeWitt was sworn in at a private event Friday morning, attributing the information to Berkeley County spokesman Michael Mule.

When questioned about the reports Friday night, Mule said, "The sheriff's office is the only folks that can confirm that . I haven't spoken to the sheriff personally to confirm that."

The S.C. Highway Patrol said DeWitt, 63, was alone early Sunday when he was driving a county-owned Ford F-150 that rear-ended a car near Goose Creek, injuring a 21-year-old man. The pickup left the scene, but Hanahan police officers later stopped it.

Troopers charged him with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of a crash with personal injury.

On Friday, in front of the county office building where the swearing-in ceremony took place, a handful of residents who refused to give their full names protested behind signs calling for DeWitt's resignation or firing. Their cause was bolstered by a handful of vocal members of the National Action Network.

Inside, the ceremony attracted a capacity crowd of county and state officials and supporters that spilled into the hallway to see Supervisor Bill Peagler and others take the oath of office under the leadership of U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.

"We came today to hear what Mr. Peagler has to say and what he plans to do differently," said Hillery Ponder of Goose Creek. "It sounds like he's going to make a lot of changes so it'll be interesting to follow what happens in the months to come."

Michael Lockliear also was sworn in as mayor of Moncks Corner, taking over Peagler's unexpired term. Lockliear has said he will run for mayor in the upcoming special election.

Also, Coroner Bill Salisbury was at the noon ceremony but said he was sworn in earlier.

"I was working on New Year's as the ball dropped," he said. "The coroner can't wait."

Berkeley County Republican Party Chairman Josh Whitley hailed the event as "a great time to be a Republican in Berkeley County."

"Our party is very optimistic with today's changing of the guard and Peagler's pledge to govern conservatively," he said.

Peagler, who moved into the supervisor's office on Friday, said after the swearing-in, "We are going to work to restructure county government, streamline and eliminate duplicate agencies and processes, speed up the planning and permitting process, and make government smaller and more inviting to our residents."

He said one of his first priorities would be to make sure that emergency responders were properly outfitted.

"Doing so will not only make our neighborhoods safer, but it will also give our residents better emergency care," he said. "From better equipped First Responders to better access to emergency care to safer neighborhoods and better education, Berkeley County will be a better place to live, work and raise a family."

Peagler also pledged to provide residents with transparency and accountability from county employees and to work with the county school board.

"I know all of these are lofty goals," he said. "But I also know all of these goals can be accomplished."

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter. Schuyler Kropf contributed to this story.