Sheriff Lee Boan is asking Kershaw County Council to return control of the Kershaw County Detention Center (KCDC) to his office. According to past Chronicle-Independent articles about the jail, the KCDC last operated as an arm of the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) under the late Sheriff Hector DeBruhl.
DeBruhl transferred his control of the jail to the county sometime prior to 1987. He retired as Kershaw County’s sheriff in January 1991 after 24 years in office, and passed away more than a year later in May 1992.
In a letter he sent to council Monday, Boan said, “It is my firm belief that the long-standing general law in South Carolina -- that the sheriff shall have custody of the jail in his county -- is the best option for the citizens and for the efficient and effective operation of law enforcement functions within the county. Currently, (more than) three-quarters of South Carolina sheriffs have custody of their county jails.”
In the letter, a copy of which he provided the C-I, Boan cited S.C. Code of Law section 24-5-12 and “other applicable” case law. The section immediately prior to the one Boan cites, Section 24-5-10 states, “The sheriff shall have custody of the jail in his county and, if he appoints a facility manager to keep it, the sheriff shall be liable for such facility manager and the sheriff or facility manager shall receive and safely keep in prison any person delivered or committed to either of them, according to law.”
Section 24-5-12 allows sheriffs to “devolve” their jail powers to the county government, but also allows -- by mutual agreement -- counties to “devolve” those powers back to the sheriff.
In the letter, Boan says the time is right for the county to return control of the jail to his office.
“With the retirement of our current jail administrator, now is the proper and logical time to move forward with transferring the county jail back to the sheriff,” Boan said. “The voters in Kershaw County already elect the chief law enforcement officer in their county, the sheriff. In giving the jail back to the sheriff, you are essentially giving it back to the voters of Kershaw County.”
The KCDC is currently operated by the county under the Department of Safety and Emergency Services. Jail Administrator Peggy Spivey recently announced her retirement, effective June 30. A new fiscal year starts the next day, July 1. County Administrator Vic Carpenter said Wednesday that Capt. Tyrell Cato has already been appointed interim director.
In his letter, Boan told council he would present more information in greater detail during its July 9 council meeting.
“I trust that our mutual desire to effectively and efficiently serve the citizens of Kershaw County will allow us to move forward with this transition,” Boan said. “There are a number of readily identifiable areas which could result in significant cost savings, as well as help provide for more effective law enforcement services for Kershaw County.”
As examples, Boan said the consolidation of training, transportation, and courthouse functions would “eliminate duplication of efforts in those areas, as well as provide for more uniformed and better coordinated interaction between involved personnel.”
In a separate email Tuesday, Boan said while DeBruhl giving up jail control “may have been the right thing back then … times change.”
“After (Spivey) announced her retirement, I started researching the pros and cons of merging the KCSO with the KCDC,” Boan said. “I believe the pros greatly outweigh the cons.”
He said he has confidence that members of council will do their own research and “make a decision based on what is best for Kershaw County.”
This is not the first time a Kershaw County sheriff has sought to have their office regain control of the jail. Ten years ago, in March 2009, and following a five-year period during which there were a number of escapes, overcrowding issues and even detention center officers caught up in illegal activities, former Sheriff Steve McCaskill asked council to transfer KCDC control to his office. At the time, McCaskill said he wanted to run it in a “very effective, efficient manner” and bring it up to date, and he wanted to take control of the jail on April 20, 2009, just a little more than a month after making the request.
Several people, including members of council, expressed concern at having nearly 40 percent of the county’s budget in the hands of one elected official and at having those with the power to arrest citizens be in control of their detention.
Just days before McCaskill’s April 20 deadline, council voted down (3-4) a motion to immediately transfer control to him, instead seeking an opinion from then S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster -- who is now the state’s governor. The question was whether DeBruhl’s pre-1987 transfer was binding on future councils and sheriffs.
The attorney general office’s opinion, written by one of McMaster’s assistant attorneys general in May 2009, was that the transfer was binding, analogous to a property transfer whereupon the county “owns” the jail. The opinion further stated that McCaskill’s only actions would be to ask the county to voluntarily return the jail to his office -- which had done in his initial letter -- or seek a declaratory judgment in court.
It is unclear from the C-I’s previous coverage whether or not McCaskill based his 2009 request on the same state code as Boan is now. An online search of Kershaw County cases did not reveal a ruling on any declaratory judgments involving McCaskill, the county and the jail.
In an additional email Thursday morning, Boan said he wanted to make sure the public knows his request is about working with, not against, county council.
“This is not a ‘fight’ between your sheriff and your county council over who will manage the county jail,” he said. “We are discussing and researching this matter jointly to determine what will be in the best interest of Kershaw County.”
One member of county council is already saying he supports at least the idea of the transfer in power. Councilman Jimmy Jones said during a telephone call Thursday morning that he has asked that Boan’s presentation be officially included on the July 9 agenda.
“From my standpoint … I support the jail being transferred to the sheriff,” Jones said, adding that he will speak more about his reasons for supporting Boan’s request as discussions move forward.