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Matthews hit with 3rd $2 million lawsuit

Posted: August 2, 2011 5:06 p.m.
Updated: August 3, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews got the news just a few hours before participating in a press conference about a serial robber Monday. A former Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office victims advocate, Barbara Jones, is suing him for defamation of character, seeking $2 million in actual and punitive damages.

The action marks the third such suit filed against the new sheriff. In February, Delores Leonard with the Kershaw County Magistrate’s Office sued Matthews for defamation, alleging the sheriff wrongly accused her of misusing public funds appropriated for crime victims.

Three weeks ago, former Kershaw County Sheriff Steve McCaskill filed a similar lawsuit, claiming Matthews falsely stated that McCaskill failed to properly maintain appropriate policies and procedures while serving as sheriff.

Jones’ suit is similar in that all three plaintiffs are claiming Matthews made the statements either at or after Kershaw County Council’s Jan. 4 meeting -- the very day Matthews took the oath of office.

At that meeting, Matthews said, “I believe that this fund has grown to this size because of the very stringent regulations and the fact that there was simply no one at the sheriff’s office with the experience or expertise in monitoring the victims advocate program. Currently, there are inadequate policies, procedures and training for victims advocate personnel.”

Jones alleges that Matthews made the statements -- and that she was the only victims advocate at the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office during McCaskill’s tenure -- “malicious and deliberately,” damaging her reputation.

A review of Chronicle-Independent coverage of the Jan. 4 county council meeting, subsequent meetings and other interviews reveals no instance where Matthews uses Leonard’s, Jones’ or McCaskill’s names, nor the phrase “former sheriff.”

Matthews said he is beginning to wonder if the lawsuits are a concerted effort to embarrass him.

“I think a reasonable person could conclude that this is due to bitterness over the last election,” Matthews said.

But his thoughts on the matter go beyond that. He said Jones’ husband recently reported a break-in at his business and when deputies arrived to speak to him, they found McCaskill there.

“He’s there the whole time, just watching, listening. He doesn’t interfere,” Matthews said, “but a reasonable person could assume there’s something going on here.”

Matthews said McCaskill and his supporters should “get over” last November’s election -- in which McCaskill did not run -- “get over the bitterness and get on with life.

“This is just a bump in the road to me, but the county attorney’s having to deal with this at taxpayers' expense.”

According to online records, Leonard’s and McCaskill’s suits are still pending. Matthews answered Leonard’s suit on March 3. It did not appear Matthews has answered McCaskill’s suit. Leonard, McCaskill and Jones have all demanded jury trials. It could not be determined if any court dates have been set.

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