Wayne DeWitt really didn’t have a choice, and he knew that — it just took awhile for it to sink in.
Last week, the Berkeley County sheriff resigned more than a month after his arrest on DUI and hit-and-run charges. It was unfortunate, but even his peers in law enforcement privately agree it was the right thing to do.
The damage had been done, and not just to that car DeWitt’s county truck rear-ended.
Following his arrest, DeWitt at first said he would work to regain the public trust. But that was just pride talking. It’s understandable. He was trying to hang on to a job he’d held for 20 years, and had just won for another term.
Then reality set in:
He had refused to take a breathalyzer test which, in South Carolina, is an automatic six-month suspension of your driver’s license. Did he really think he could chase bad guys on a moped?
And what would have happened if he tried to discipline a deputy for a similar offense if he’d gotten away with his charges?
Finally, there was no way he could ever again be the face of the county’s “Sober or Slammer” campaign, especially if he didn’t go to the slammer.
Some folks go through similar ordeals and manage to keep their job, so a few might argue there is a double standard for officers of the law.
They would be right.
But that’s just the way it is.
If it had only been a DUI, DeWitt’s career might have survived.
Politicians — and the sheriff ultimately is one — muscle through similar charges often.
Sure, the MADD people would have kept on him, and some people would have been through with him, but others would recognize that could happen to anyone.
But DeWitt was not only driving under the influence, he fled the scene of his own accident involving an injury and refused to stop for blue lights.
You try that and see how it works out.
As an officer of the law, DeWitt had to know how serious an offense it is to run from the law.
Dashcams recorded the entire incident, and it was not a pretty scene. Folks might read over a police report, but they tend to remember videos — especially when they play like an episode of “Cops.” And even though an officer on the scene was recorded saying that he bet this would be “swept under the rug,” that wasn’t going to happen.
Not with a free press, not with the Freedom of Information Act.
The entire Lowcountry was watching, and the courts could not afford to be lenient on the sheriff. DeWitt realized he would not get out of this lightly. A minimum sentence would have gotten maximum criticism.
It would have made a mockery of the entire system, a system DeWitt had upheld his entire career.
The truth is, life is hard for officers of the law.
Studies show that police officers have shorter life spans than civilians, their divorce rates are higher, as are their suicide rates. Police Quarterly says police use alcohol at about double the rate of other folks, and 20 percent of them abuse the drink.
That’s not an excuse for DeWitt, not at all. Those are just the facts, ma’am.
There are some who think if DeWitt had done things differently, he might have survived this. After all, Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon weathered charges that he slapped a suspect in custody.
Cannon is a smart, thoughtful man, and he did the right thing. He immediately reported his actions to SLED, and stood for his punishment.
Of course, many people didn’t feel Cannon deserved any reprimand. He slapped a guy who had just driven 100 mph through Mount Pleasant and could have killed hundreds of people. Then smarted off about it.
A lot of us would have done much worse to the guy than smack him.
DeWitt was never going to get that kind of sympathy. Cannon was guilty only of taking his responsibility too seriously; DeWitt was ignoring his.
Finally, Sheriff DeWitt realized that and is owning his mistakes.
This spring Berkeley County will elect DeWitt’s replacement and the candidates need to look to the former sheriff’s fate as a reminder of what they’re getting into. Police work can take a toll on a person, and it’s unforgiving.
But just because you enforce the law, that doesn’t mean you are above it.
In the end, DeWitt recognized that.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.