UPDATE: Suspended Lexington County Sheriff James Metts is scheduled to appear in court for arraignment on federal charges of accepting bribes and abuse of his office.
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New Lexington County Sheriff Lewis McCarty shook up the department’s top command in his first full day on the job Wednesday, dismissing four aides of his predecessor.
“We are in the process of reorganizing,” McCarty said, declining to specify the moves. “I did change some personnel.”
Those being replaced, county officials said, are assistant sheriff Keith Kirchner; Allan Paavel, who oversaw administration; Darren Amick, who oversaw patrols; and John Tate, who was legal adviser.
The four were named to top posts by Sheriff James Metts, who was suspended Tuesday after he was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of accepting bribes and abuse of his position.
The 10-count indictment announced by federal prosecutors alleges Metts received bribes in return for using his influence to interfere with the identification and processing of illegal immigrants detained at the county jail.
Some of the alleged “preferential treatment” under Metts occurred through contact with unidentified “command staff” and officers, the indictment alleges.
“The situation itself dictated some change,” McCarty said.
McCarty is bringing in a new team of top assistants with three already chosen, according to county officials told of the overhaul.
“A new sheriff has the right to make changes,” Lexington County Council Chairman Johnny Jeffcoat said.
The 72-year-old McCarty, who retired as Metts’ top aide in 1999 after 37 years in law enforcement, said he accepted the appointment from Gov. Nikki Haley Tuesday after “a little bit” of hesitation.
“It’s kind of like getting an old car out of the junk yard,” McCarty said.
“I think I’m going to get back in ‘go mode’ pretty quick.”
McCarty emphasized that he will serve in an interim capacity, without any intention of seeking the job whenever an election for a new sheriff occurs or should Metts be cleared and return.
He also expressed sympathy for Metts, saying “my heart goes out to him and his family. I have every good wish for him.”
His experience with the inner workings of the department and law enforcement countywide makes McCarty the best choice for the post, 11th Circuit Solicitor Donnie Myers said. “There is nobody else.”
As for Metts, Myers said, “I am sorely disappointed in Jimmy Metts; he knew better.”
McCarty was sworn in quietly Tuesday shortly before the indictment of Metts became public.
A brief ceremony repeating the oath Wednesday night drew a crowd overflowing into hallways of the county judicial center, attracting hundreds of current and former deputies, other law enforcement officers, magistrates and county leaders as well as family and friends.
Circuit Judge Knox McMahon, who presided, hailed McCarty as someone “who leads from the front.”
The new sheriff was “the steady heartbeat” of the department during 26 years as Metts’ right hand, McMahon added.
McCarty’s voice shook at times as he thanked those at the ceremony for support, promising “impeccable” integrity and superior public service by the 500-member department he now heads.
“Nothing more than that, nothing less than that,” he said.
Some of those who came to celebrate called McCarty a cop’s cop who is an inspiration.
“He was a role model for me,” said Pelion Police Chief Chris Garner, who was a deputy for nearly 20 years under McCarty.
Meanwhile, an investigation into misconduct among public officials is continuing, according to S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office.
Three people were charged by the grand jury Tuesday:
• Former Lexington Town Councilman Danny Frazier, accused of bribing Metts so illegal immigrants could keep working and of bribing former South Congaree Police Chief Jason Amodio in exchange for seized gaming machines.
• Restaurant owner Greg Leon, accused of bribing Metts so illegal immigrants facing deportation who worked for him could return to their jobs.
• Amodio, accused of accepting payments in exchange for illegal gaming machines seized by town police.