COLUMBIA — A young, conservative state lawmaker known for his defense of gun rights and support of the Confederate battle flag was released from jail Tuesday after posting $20,000 bail on charges that he beat his wife and pointed a handgun at her.
As a condition of his release, state Rep. Chris Corley, R-Graniteville, is to have no contact with his wife and cannot be in possession of a firearm, Magistrate Melanie James DuBose said.
Corley, 36, is charged with first-degree domestic violence and pointing and presenting a firearm, according to charges filed by the Aiken County Sheriff's Office.
The felony allegations were first reported by The Aiken Standard and stem from an incident that occurred Monday at Corley's home. Calls from The Post and Courier to Corley's cellphone went directly to voicemail.
Early in his career, Corley shared some of his views on domestic violence. In a December 2014 interview with the Aiken Standard ahead of his first term in office, Corley said he didn't know if the government could completely fix the state's domestic violence issue. For years, South Carolina has ranked among the nation's deadliest states for women killed at the hands of men — topping that list four times.
"As far as what we can do as the government, you know, stiffer mandatory penalties," he said at the time. "I don't know that saying you can't have a gun because you get convicted of domestic violence, I don't know if that's going to stop someone from future domestic violence."
Corley did vote to support of the state's sweeping domestic violence law that passed in 2015, which included a partial gun ban. The law has provisions to strip the most egregious abusers of gun rights. Severe crimes carry a lifetime gun ban, while the second-most severe offense would carry a 10-year ban.
Corley, who is also an attorney, appeared at his bond hearing wearing a long-sleeved shirt, blue gym shorts and New Balance shoes. He didn't look at the slew of reporters present to cover his hearing and did not speak.
Around the Statehouse, Corley is particularly known for defending the Confederate battle flag on the Statehouse grounds when other lawmakers were seeking its removal in the aftermath of the Emanuel AME Church shooting in June 2015. His arrest comes about a year after he sent a Christmas card to his Republican colleagues that called their morals into question after the Legislature voted to remove the rebel banner.
According to an incident report, Monday's incident played out this way:
Aiken deputies responded to Corley's home Monday on Sugar Hill Drive in Graniteville at about 10 p.m. His wife told them Corley punched her in the face. She told deputies the incident occurred in front of two children, ages 2 and 8, after Corley had been "caught cheating."
She also told deputies Corley only stopped hitting her when he heard the children screaming and saw blood coming from her head.
Corley then left the home and went to an unknown vehicle where he got a handgun before returning and pointing it at her. Corley announced he was going to kill himself and then went into a bedroom.
His wife then fled to her mother's home across the street. After talking with her, deputies spoke with Corley, who said he and his wife got into a verbal argument before she tried to punch him in his face. He said he pushed her off of him, at which time she scratched his forehead.
First-degree domestic violence carries a maximum sentence of up to 10 years. Pointing and presenting a firearm carries a penalty of a fine or up to five years in prison. DuBose set bail at $10,000 bond for each charge.
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, said the speaker was aware of the charges against Corley and is monitoring the situation.
"If and when an indictment is issued, the speaker will take the necessary action to comply with the law and maintain the dignity of the House of Representatives," spokeswoman Caroline Delleney said in a media statement.
A felony indictment would trigger his automatic suspension from the House.
Members of the Aiken County legislative delegation said they were distressed to learn of the allegations against Corley.
"It’s a tragedy for all that’s involved," said Rep. Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta. “It’s very sad and I feel for him and his family.”
Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, said he too was knocked back when he learned of Corley’s arrest. Clyburn said despite his philosophical differences with Corley, he’s worked with him on a few issues, including getting aid to the Aiken area for storm cleanup and attempting to open up the state’s Freedom of Information Act laws.
“I hate to see that happen to anybody and their family any time, especially during this season,” he said. “I’m just heartbroken and disappointed.”
S.C. Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore said he hoped the case would work through the justice system swiftly.
"I trust the legal system to deal with these disturbing charges against Rep. Corley in a timely manner," he said in an email. "Until then, our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and children."
Corley's voting record shows consistent support of gun rights. He voted in favor of a law granting reciprocity to gun owners in Georgia, which allows them to carry concealed weapons in South Carolina. Corley also supported a failed effort to allow reciprocity for all out-of-state concealed weapons permit holders.
Corley drew national attention for his vocal support of keeping the Confederate battle flag flying on Statehouse grounds after avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof shot and killed nine black parishioners at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church. During the debate that followed, Corley proposed several amendments to the flag law, including a proposal to replace the Confederate flag with a white flag of surrender.
Last December, Corley sent a card with a photo on the front depicting the Statehouse with the battle flag flying prominently in the foreground, along with Christmas wishes from his family. On the back, Corley scolded those who voted to remove the banner from the Civil War soldiers memorial.
“May your Christmas be filled with memories of a happier time when South Carolina’s leaders possessed morals, convictions and the principles to stand for what is right,” the card read. “May you have a blessed Christmas, and may you take this joyous time as an opportunity to ask for forgiveness of all your sins such as betrayal.”
At the time, he said the card was sent to his fellow Republicans as a joke in a smart-aleck style.
Later that month, Corley pre-filed legislation that would have asked voters if the Confederate flag should return to the Statehouse or remain in the relic room. The bill gained no traction.
Corley is next expected in court Feb. 10.
South Carolina Democrats used Corley's arrest to call for stronger legislation addressing domestic violence.
"Domestic violence and abuse is not something to politicize or take lightly," said party Chairman Jaime Harrison. "Today's disturbing news reminds us that our state has a lot more work to do to eliminate the scourge of domestic violence, which claims the lives of more than 40 South Carolina women every year."