James Metts left his mark on Lexington County through celebration and chagrin during nearly 42 years as sheriff.
He was known for bluster, bear hugs, handshakes and smiles in becoming a force in local politics until his indictment June 17 on federal corruption charges.
Metts thrived amid brawling with state and and county political leaders, staring down offenders pointing guns at him, shrugging off have a knife pressed to his throat and becoming a crime victim after an unsolved break-in at his home in 2011.
He modernized what deputies did, taking over a force in 1972 where officers wore jeans and kept notes on envelopes and reshaped it into a nationally accredited law enforcement agency.
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Metts, 68 and the state’s longest-serving sitting sheriff when he was suspended in June, gave up “a job that was the love of his life” to battle the charges, his lawyer Sherri Lydon said.
Some high and low points of his tenure include:
Top cop: He put more patrols in rural areas, opening substations in remote sections and small towns. He cracked down on drunken driving, criminal domestic violence and parents who were overdue with child support payments. His force of 500 blends computers and crime analysis with old-fashioned shoe-leather investigation. But there were complaints he was soft on video poker and other gambling.
A legend in his mind: Metts briefly mounted a run for governor as an independent in 1997 after feuding with fellow Republicans in charge at the State House. The effort quickly folded.
Setting an example: Metts wanted his deputies better trained, setting an example by getting a doctorate in education that enabled him to teach classes.
Away from the shop: He was criticized for being a for-hire law enforcement expert and a consultant to insurers.
Aiding the needy: Deputies regularly raised money and provided other assistance for charities and neighborhoods as part of his emphasis on community policing.
Too much politics: Some deputies complained some of the efforts to help others was aimed at burnishing Metts’ political image, taking away time from police work.
Setting an example: Women were hired as deputies, deputies assigned to protect schools, crime victim advocates added and a court for domestic violence problems created with his backing.
Alienating your team: Metts often clashed with County Council over spending increases and related tax hikes requested to improve his agency. He apologized in 2001 for describing Batesburg-Leesville as dying during an unsuccessful bid to persuade town leaders to allow conversion of a home into a catering business he wanted to open. Ill will flared up there anew in 2003 when town officials said Metts made an off-color remark and used a crude gesture during a conversation about improving cooperation between local police and his deputies.
Always available: Metts kept his home phone listed and gave out his cell phone to the public.
Doing too much: Medical issues occasionally sidelined him. In 1995, his doctors advised him to find a way to relieve stress after heart pains. Metts built a goldfish pond at his home and began exercising. He battled with his weight for years but recently slimmed down, saying he is taking fewer medications as well.