Quiet controversy hovers over election for Dorchester sheriff

Ray Nash

ALAN HAWES

Missing jail money, the controversial arrest of a state senator, a retiring incumbent — the Dorchester County Sheriff's race by all rights should be an old- fashioned shootout.

Instead, it's been about as quiet as Tuesday morning patrol, a refreshingly civilized race in a county known for its wild politics.

The two Republican candidates for Dorchester sheriff — the only two men on either party's ballot — are veteran lawmen with similar ideas for cleaning up the sheriff's office. Terry Boatwright and L.C. Knight say they want to restructure the department, restore confidence, raise morale and keep politics out.

Each touts decades of experience. They even use the same phrase for describing the current situation for the beleaguered department: under a cloud.

That cloud has formed largely in the last year of Sheriff Ray Nash's tenure. Earlier this year, an audit found that more than $360,000 went missing from a jail fund during the past seven years, allegedly embezzled by an employee at the jail.

And last month, state Sen. Randy Scott was charged with DUI — a charge he claims was politically motivated. When the Sheriff's Office released tapes of Scott talking to his wife on a jail phone, a state judge even stepped in to temporarily stop it.

Together, those incidents have made this race seem all the more crucial.

"I think the credibility of the department has been damaged," Boatwright says.

"The people I've talked with are quite concerned," Knight says. "I also have heard complaints about the service."

Arthur Bryngelson, chairman of the Dorchester County Republican Party, said it's been great for the GOP that the two candidates have conducted such an honorable race.

"Both are behaving like gentlemen, but they are legitimately that way," Bryngelson said. "Either one would make a fine sheriff."

The race also could turn into a referendum on Nash. Boatwright and Knight have faced the incumbent sheriff on the ballot — Knight lost by 400 votes just four years ago; Boatwright lost to Nash in the sheriff's first election. But sides clearly have been taken. Nash credits Boatwright's interest in the job as a mitigating factor in his decision to retire.

Once again, the sheriff's race could come down to the difference between old and new.

L.C. Knight is the son of Carl Knight, who served as sheriff in Dorchester County for 28 years, from 1960 to 1988. L.C. Knight followed his father into law enforcement, serving nearly 30 years as a State Law Enforcement Division agent, much of that time as the captain over the Lowcountry region. After more than three decades in law enforcement, he says he's not ready to retire, and he wants to serve the people.

Knight talks about improving customer service, a user-friendly term for police calls. He says the men are underpaid, and the influx of new people in one of the state's fastest-growing counties has them overworked.

He says he would like to tighten the budget, relying on reciprocal agreements with SLED and the S.C. Highway Patrol rather than spending a lot of local tax money on fancy toys. If it is a dig at Nash, whose critics have targeted his spending habits, it is veiled well.

"I would like to bring a different management style and utilize men differently to provide a lot better service," Knight says.

Restructuring is one of Boatwright's top issues. The St. George resident serves as public safety director of Folly Beach, and says that his experience as a supervisor makes him the better qualified candidate. As a captain in the Charleston County Sheriff's Office, he managed 185 people, which is close to the number he would lead as Dorchester County Sheriff. With Folly Beach, he has gained experience in working with a council form of government to get what he needs to do his job, he said.

Boatwright is an FBI National Academy graduate with a master's degree in management. He says he would run the sheriff's office with an eye on accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

Boatwright believes that following professional police policies would help detect any problems in the department, including embezzlement from the jail fund.

Boatwright says he thinks the growth in Dorchester County is a big challenge for the sheriff's office. As the population grows, so must the police force.

In April, when Scott was picked up by Dorchester deputies, the senator suggested that deputies' actions were politically motivated, and that such actions could result in an officer's firing once Knight was sheriff. Boatwright criticized the senator for threatening the deputy.

"I will not allow any public official to exercise influence regarding the hiring or firing of any personnel," Boatwright says. "As sheriff, I would not allow 'good old boy' politics to decide who gets a job or who goes to jail."

Knight concedes with a laugh the publicity was not the kind a candidate wants, but notes that he can't control what anyone else says. Knight said Scott has apologized to him for making the statement. Knight says he doesn't know the particulars of the Scott case to comment, that it's something for the court system to decide. But he says he wouldn't allow politics to enter into any sheriff's office decision.

It is just one more way the two candidates for sheriff sound similar.

H.T. 'Terry' Boatwright

Birthdate: Dec. 17, 1950.

Family: Wife Linda; three adult children; five grandchildren.

Education: Bachelor's degree, sociology; Master of Arts in Management from Webster University and FBI National Academy graduate.

Occupation: Public safety director, Folly Beach.

Previous elected office: None.

Why are you running for office?

To give something back to my community. My God and country have given me the education, training and experience to lead and manage this diverse law-enforcement agency.

What's the toughest issue facing the county?

The population explosion and the crime that accompanies it. My leadership, training and experience provide me with the tools to lead and to use creative, innovative and modern approaches to the prevention of and solution to crime.

L.C. Knight

Birthdate: April 3, 1942.

Family: Wife Rhonda; two children, Troy and Kelly Byrd; two grandchildren.

Education: Summerville High School, Baptist College.

Occupation: Retired from SLED after 29 1/2 years, former magistrate.

Previous elected office: None.

Why are you running for office?

I feel I bring a lot to the table after 32 years in law enforcement

What's the toughest issue facing the county?

Right now, the sheriff's office is under a cloud, morale is low, and the employees are underpaid.