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Matthews responds to McCaskill suit

'I hope the courtroom is packed'

Posted: July 8, 2011 3:15 p.m.
Updated: July 11, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews expressed no surprise at being served with a $2 million defamation lawsuit by former Sheriff Steve McCaskill.

“I had heard that the former sheriff and one of our magistrates were getting together to do something like this,” Matthews said Friday morning.

McCaskill filed the suit at the Kershaw County Courthouse late Thursday afternoon. In the suit, the former sheriff alleges that Matthews has repeatedly made defamatory statements about the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) that have caused him to sustain “severe and continuing reputational damages, emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation and a potential loss of earning capacity.”

Specifically, McCaskill cites statements Matthews made during a Jan. 4 Kershaw County Council meeting regarding the “misuse” of victims advocate funds and mishandled evidence. From that same meeting, the lawsuit alleges that Matthews stated McCaskill “failed to properly maintain appropriate policies and procedures, deputy training and hiring, and the (KCSO) vehicles.”

McCaskill’s suit went on to cite an instance where Matthews claimed he and his team found “no ammunition for the handguns” after taking office. McCaskill also claims in the suit that Matthews has made other comments during his time in office “which clearly identified” McCaskill as the former sheriff responsible for “negligent” and “poor” policies and practices.

Matthews said Friday that all of his comments have been “measured” and “general.”

“He (McCaskill) did serve the county well for part of his term, but if he’s so concerned about his reputation then he might not want the public scrutiny of what we found. What I can bring out in court is far more damning that the general statements I’ve made,” Matthews said.

Matthews also said any statements he has made, he’s made because the deficiencies he and his command staff found “needed to be brought to light.”

“And every issue he’s brought up … I’ve got voluminous information I could bring forth to back up my claims. The public should know I didn’t open this box, he did,” he said. “Unfortunately, the taxpayers are going to have to pay for this with the plaintiff and his lawyer trying to line his pockets with a frivolous lawsuit. He initiated this and he’ll have to suffer the consequences, which won’t be favorable to him.

“He’s asked for a jury trial, and I welcome it. I hope the courtroom is packed. I hope the county doesn’t settle out of court. I’d rather it go to trial than to put money in either one of their pockets.”

Although McCaskill’s suit notes that Matthews is the currently elected sheriff of Kershaw County, it states he “is being sued in this matter in his individual capacity and not in his official capacity.”

Matthews indicated, however, that as a county employee he would be represented by County Attorney Ken DuBose.

This is the second lawsuit filed against Matthews since taking office. Kershaw County Magistrate’s Office employee Delores Leonard sued Matthews -- also for $2 million -- in February alleging that Matthews wrongly accused her of misusing victims advocate funds disbursed to the magistrate’s office.

McCaskill is being represented by the same attorney representing Leonard, J. Lewis Cromer.

Cromer said he is “proud to have known McCaskill for many, many years” and was proud to represent him.

“He served as sheriff for 16 years and in my view, and in the view of most of the people who dealt with him over the years, he is an outstanding sheriff,” Cromer said. “Nobody forced him to retire. There was no scandal. He just felt it was the time to retire.”

Cromer claimed Matthews ran for sheriff as if he were running against McCaskill, who was not running for reelection.

“There was not only no need for Matthews to say what he’s said but the means for ascertaining the truth was apparent. The man, himself, has connections with SLED and they could have told him he was off base,” said Cromer.

Cromer spoke to one specific point in the lawsuit, Matthews’ claim there was no ammunition in January.

“There was plenty of ammunition on hand. When he said that, Sheriff McCaskill launched his own personal investigation to make sure there was ample ammunition,” Cromer said, indicating McCaskill spoke with former deputies who still work at the KCSO. “There was no reason for Matthews to think otherwise.”

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