There were two things Kershaw County Sheriff Lee Boan wanted to make sure everyone understood Tuesday night: He was merely asking -- not demanding -- Kershaw County Council to transfer the Kershaw County Detention Center (KCDC) to his office’s control, and that he and citizens need to trust council to make an informed decision on what is best for the county.
Boan formally made his request for council to consider “devolving,” or transferring, authority over the jail to his office during council’s meeting Tuesday night. During that request, the sheriff focused on two major benefits: improved recruiting and retention efforts, and a consolidation of resources.
Boan started out by going back over some of the history of how the county ended up with direct authority over the jail. He said the late Sheriff Hector DeBruhl transferred the jail to county control back in the 1980s. He also said that, according to people who worked with him, DeBruhl gave up control of the jail due to finances.
“He was getting crushed by the numbers in the budget,” Boan said, because neither department was being funded enough at the time.
The sheriff said that is no longer the case, with both the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) and KCDC being “well-funded” and “well taken care of” today.
Boan also said that when former Jail Administrator Peggy Spivey announced her retirement earlier this year, someone came to him and asked him if he wanted to take control of the jail.
“My first answer was, ‘No, I don’t want the jail. There are too many horror stories about the jail and I’ve got enough stuff on my plate as it is. I’m not interested unless the county needs me to step up and take the jail.’
“After that discussion, I got to thinking I’d put my neck on the chopping block -- ‘What did I just commit to? -- so I started doing my research … open minded, and I started seeing a lot of benefits for the sheriff’s office having the jail. A lot of things we can do to benefit the citizens of Kershaw County (and) nothing that I will, personally, get out of having the jail,” Boan said.
He then reiterated a point he made in June -- that “this is not a fight” with council where he is demanding control of the jail.
“I’m simply requesting, because the timing is perfect now, that you consider what is best for Kershaw County when it comes to running the detention center,” he said.
Boan talked first about the benefits for the recruitment and retention of both deputies and detention center officers. He noted that his office is now fully staffed and that he even has a waiting list of men and women wanting to become Kershaw County deputies.
“I feel we can do the same at the detention center,” Boan said.
One of the first things the sheriff said he would like to do is take those applicants who are non-certified law enforcement officers and assign them to the jail. He said this is the way most sheriffs who control their county jails in South Carolina staff their detention centers.
“It gives them time to prove themselves and gives me time to make a good assessment before committing county dollars to go through the academy,” he said.
Next, Boan talked about salaries, saying that while he feels that the county “can do better,” deputy and detention center officer salaries are competitive with neighboring counties.
“To me, recruiting is not as important as retention. I want to keep the guys we’ve got over there,” the sheriff said. “I intend to keep the same staff there running it the same way.”
In order to help with salaries at the KCDC, Boan suggested not replacing Spivey and, therefore, using the savings from what had been her salary to shore up the salaries of other, existing detention center staff.
“On average, you’re looking at about a $2,000 pay raise (for each employee) without increasing the budget,” he said.
Boan said he has no intention of “walking in the door and firing people,” but would reassess positions as attrition occurs when people retire or quit. Boan also said that merging both departments would open up a larger range of future opportunities for both deputies and jail officers by giving them the chance to move from one side of the operation to the other.
When he spoke about consolidating resources, Boan suggested that Capt. Tyrell Cato -- who was Spivey’s second in command, would continue to run the jail in his current position.
Concerning transportation, Boan said the way things are now, it “kind of depends on whose job it is” to determine who transports prisoners from either another jurisdiction or within Kershaw County. By merging the departments, it becomes “all of our jobs,” he said, leaving it to merely who’s more available to transport someone.
Boan also suggested that court and government center security could be streamlined. For example, he said, officers transporting prisoners from the jail to the courthouse would start as a jailer, become a transport officer and then handle courthouse security -- all in one trip.
“That’s being 100 percent efficient,” Boan said.
He ended this part of his discussion by pointing out that by merging the departments, the KCSO’s training deputy could take over the training of officers at the KCDC, which he said only has a part-time training officer.
Boan said he has been asked a lot of questions since announcing that he would make this request. He said one of them is, “Will the sheriff be responsible for a large portion of the county’s entire ($48.8 million) budget?”
He said that while both the KCSO and KCDC have “large” budgets, they are only $5.8 million and $2.4 million, respectively, for a total of $8.2 million. That is only 16 percent of the county’s budget, compared to what Boan said some people told him they thought was more like 40 percent of the total budget.
“To me, that is still a lot of money, but I’m going to take care of that money,” Boan said, adding that he does feel that money should be under the control of the chief elected law enforcement officer of the county.
Boan also confirmed that if, as sheriff, he took control of the KCDC, he would be able to fire jail employees without county approval, just as he does with deputies now. However, he reiterated that has no plans to walk into the detention center to fire people. He also said that the KCDC has actually fired more employees this year so far than he has since becoming sheriff on Jan. 1.
“Will the sheriff be more likely to be arrested if he runs the jail?” was another question Boan said has come up, noting that there have been news stories like these in recent years.
“I can tell you now, and if I need to tell you under oath … I have no intention of being arrested, going to prison, even at my own jail,” Boan responded, to some laughter from councilmen and the audience. “Sheriffs don’t get arrested for running jails, sheriffs get arrested for breaking the law… sheriffs, just like anybody else, are accountable for their actions.”
Boan said the county needs to trust that voters will elect trustworthy sheriffs who will run both their office and the jail properly.
At this point, Boan asked Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis to come up and speak to council about his experience in taking over the Sumter-Lee Regional Detention Center, which required consent from both the Sumter and Lee county councils.
Dennis said when he took over the jail in September 2017, he became a member of the state’s jail administrator association. There, he said, Spivey and the KCDC enjoyed one of the highest levels of respect of any detention center in the state.
Dennis said he has experienced the benefits of consolidation Boan outlined, saying that this has saved money and made training and other operations more efficient. By combining operations, he said he now has more than 200 deputies, with a number of them working at his detention center. For example, Dennis said that prior to consolidation jail officers were transporting detainees to court while deputies were transporting arrested persons to jail.
“We were actually passing each other on I-20,” he said, due to a lack of communication.
He urged Kershaw County councilmen to contact their counterparts in Sumter and Lee counties, as well as their respective county administrators.
“Question them about the sheriff taking over the jail and the positive impact that has had on the citizens and the budget,” Dennis said. “I know Sheriff Boan will do a great job.”
Boan, in turn, noted that Dennis was the first person he called for advice after deciding to move forward with his request for control of the KCDC.
“He interrupted me and said, ‘I think it’s in the best interest of your county.’ I think that’s a pretty relevant opinion from somebody who just got their jail for a year and a half,” Boan said.
Boan concluded his presentation by pointing out that 75 percent of the sheriffs in South Carolina operate their county jails and have always done so unless they choose to give them up.
“I have never had our jail, (so) I have never given up our jail,” he said. “I will not get a vote. The citizens of Kershaw County will not get a vote. We will trust our county council to make an informed decision on what is best for Kershaw County.”
At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Jimmy Jones asked that a potential vote on Boan’s request be struck from the agenda in order to give his fellow councilmen more time to think about what Boan would present. Boan commended Jones for doing so.
“I think it’s a good thing that county council is looking into what is in the best interest for Kershaw County, doing their research, and then deciding what’s best. At the end of the day, if you don’t give me the jail, I’m not going to stick out my lip and cry about it,” Boan said.
During public forum earlier in the meeting, 5th Circuit Public Defender Fielding Pringle -- who serves as the chief public defender in both Kershaw and Richland counties -- objected to the idea of having the sheriff in charge of the county’s detention center.
Pringle said that she and her four assistant public defenders for Kershaw County, who were also present, consider the KCDC to be the “gold standard” when it comes to detention centers.
“I’m not here to tell you that there hasn’t been an issue in the 30 years since it has been transferred to the county … but those issues have been tackled, conquered and dealt with,” she said. “What that reputation is, is a reputation for being a facility that treats people in a humane way, that treats people with respect and dignity and courtesy -- all of the values I know this body holds dear.”
She said the county should be proud of the way it has operated the jail for the last 30-plus years. However, as a defense attorney, she said her job is to make sure that her clients’ constitutional rights are protected. Pringle said she is concerned of the “potential for things to go bad.”
“I’ve met the sheriff, my lawyers think very highly of the sheriff, so this has nothing to do with him whatsoever, but I think you have to be careful in how you think about guarding against this potential for things to not go how they’ve been going,” Pringle said.
She argued that there is an inherent conflict of interest of having individuals vested with the authority for arresting, charging and investigating suspects of crimes, gathering evidence, and bringing defendants to court versus having them “housing the very defendants that they’re investigating and gather evidence against.”
Pringle said those are “very, very different jobs,” although she acknowledged there is overlap between them.
“It just bothers me and concerns me at mixing those two things together,” she said. “It worries me because you can’t just leave your evidence gathering role at the door when you go to work. Your loyalty as a law enforcement officer is to the sheriff. So, if you go to work as a correctional officer, but you’re working for the sheriff, I think it’s very difficult to ask individuals to keep those two things separate.”
Pringle emphasized that she does not think anyone would have any bad intentions, but that it may “just be inevitable” that problems will arise.
Council will discuss Boan’s request further at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Aug. 13 since, later in the meeting, council voted to cancel its July 23 and Aug. 27 meetings.
(Coming Tuesday, a presentation on health and wellness, and a discussion of retiree medical benefits round out coverage of Kershaw County Council’s only meeting of the month.)