Gov. Nikki Haley suspended Lexington County Sheriff James Metts from office Tuesday and appointed Lewis McCarty, a retired Lexington County assistant sheriff, to fill the post.
McCarty will serve until Metts is acquitted, the charges against him are dropped or the sheriff’s job is filled through an election after a conviction, Haley’s executive order said.
The state Constitution authorizes the governor to suspend public officials if they are indicted for a crime of “moral turpitude.”
McCarty retired as assistant sheriff in 1999, after 37 years in law enforcement.
“I am honored that the governor has entrusted me with this responsibility,” McCarty said in a statement. “We have great people employed here. ... My No. 1 priority is maintaining integrity and public confidence in this department.”
A Columbia native, McCarty joined the West Columbia Police Department as a patrolman in 1964, resigning in 1972 with the rank of lieutenant. In 1973, he was appointed Lexington assistant sheriff.
McCarty gave the FBI information that led to Operation Lost Trust, a public corruption and drug sting that involved more than two dozen indictments against more than a dozen lawmakers.
“The sheriff’s department will be in great hands,” Lexington County Council chairman Johnny Jeffcoat said, adding Haley, a former state representative from Lexington, did not ask county leaders for recommendations on a replacement.
As assistant sheriff, McCarty ran the investigation that led to the capture of Larry Gene Bell in 1985, said Alvin Wright, a retired S.C. Department of Natural Resources wildlife officer in Lexington County in the ’70s. Bell later was executed for the kidnapping and murder of Debra May Helmick, 9, and Shari Faye Smith, 17, who he sexually assaulted and suffocated.
“Lewis didn't take a day off over the whole 47 days” of the Bell investigation, Wright said. “I'm delighted that he's having his day for a little while. He actually ran it back then.”