Lewis McCarty, a retired Lexington County assistant sheriff, was appointed interim Lexington County Sheriff Tuesday after the indictment and suspension of long-serving Lexington County Sheriff James Metts. This story was written by John Allard and originally published in The State July 8, 1999. Allard now works for the Lexington County Sheriff's Department
Lewis McCarty represented law and order in Lexington County for more than two decades, serving as a father figure for deputies and spurring federal corruption probes.
McCarty , who recently retired as the county's assistant sheriff after more than 30 years in law enforcement, has a reputation among fellow officers as a straight arrow.
He was responsible for starting the largest political corruption investigation in South Carolina history. In addition, at a time when state senators ruled South Carolina, McCarty 's tip led to the indictment of a senator for selling state jobs.
The public never knew that because McCarty never sought the limelight or glory.
His commitment lies in his roots. Born and raised in Lexington County, McCarty knows many people in one of the state's fastest growing communities. Name a family that has been there a while and McCarty can tell you their history.
McCarty , 57, grew up on Center Street in West Columbia, where relatives lived nearby. His late father, Roy, installed service station equipment for 34 years.
"My family was close and loving," McCarty said. "It was important to behave properly. You were punished when you did wrong."
McCarty and his wife, Gayle, have two children: a son who is a state investigator and a daughter who is a school teacher. They have two granddaughters, ages 5 and 3.
"It's hard on your family when you reach a supervisory level," McCarty said. "I'm the kind of person who can't stay out of things."
McCarty , who was Sheriff James Metts' confidante, handled daily operations and directed major criminal investigations, including the use of a psychological profile to catch murderer Larry Gene Bell in 1985. But his passion for justice went beyond the county line.
He gave the FBI information that led to Operation Lost Trust, a corruption and drug sting that ensnared more than a dozen state lawmakers in the late '80s and early '90s. McCarty also provided a tip to the agency about state Sen. John Long, who was convicted of selling state jobs. In each case, someone contacted McCarty about wrongdoing by legislators.
McCarty said he provided the information to the FBI because it was a free-wheeling era when legislators didn't have to report receiving expensive gifts from lobbyists.
"It was a time where lawmakers felt they were power brokers and above the law. I never bought into that. No one is exempt from the law," McCarty said.
McCarty , whom deputies called "Chief," was second in command at the Sheriff 's Department from 1973 until he retired June 30.
"He's the heart and soul of that department," said Circuit Judge Marc Westbrook, a former lawmaker and county councilman.
Metts plans to name a new assistant sheriff by August. He would not discuss potential candidates.
More than 100 people filled the squad room at the Sheriff 's Department for McCarty 's retirement party. The crowd included police chiefs, sheriffs and top federal and state law enforcement officials.
Metts, who had twice talked McCarty out of retiring, broke down in tears. He set aside a written speech to speak from the heart.
"This is a day I had kept hoping would not come. Lewis is an individual of extremely high integrity," Metts said. "He has been a strong administrator and a father figure to many deputies. He always put other problems above his own."
McCarty remained an optimist despite personal setbacks, Metts said. His brother, James, died from a brain tumor at 21. McCarty suffered a heart attack 12 years ago.
He focused on deputies' welfare and solving crimes, Metts said. McCarty counseled officers about personal and professional problems and created personal budgets for deputies in financial trouble.
McCarty regularly wore a uniform to maintain rapport with deputies. He learned officers' strengths and weaknesses and kept tabs on their personal lives.
"I've lived their joy, pain, happiness and sorrow. They aren't call numbers on the radio to me," McCarty said.
McCarty and Metts, who are like brothers, met three decades ago as young officers at the West Columbia Police Department. McCarty called Metts, "Big Boy."
"I can read Jimmy and know what he wants done. I can take care of things without talking with him about them," McCarty said.
Metts always had political ambitions, while McCarty simply wanted to be a cop. McCarty was calm and diplomatic. Metts was aggressive and blunt.
"When we started out, we decided Jimmy would be the politician, and I would be the policeman," McCarty said.
McCarty could challenge Metts in shaping agency policies and procedures. The men said they rarely disagreed over the years because they instinctively understood what the other man was thinking.
"We spent more time together than we did with our families. Lewis didn't like the limelight and was happy to work behind the scenes," Metts said. "He filled the gaps where I couldn't be.
"Lewis is a cop to the core. He made a lot of decisions based on gut instinct," Metts said.
McCarty earned the respect of every officer he worked with, said Columbia Police Capt. Randy Tate, a longtime friend. He never took credit for work done by subordinates and minimized contributions that he made to investigations, Tate said.
"He put his organization above himself," Tate said. "He dealt with problems in private and praised people in public."
McCarty played a key role in the Bell investigation, said 11th Circuit Solicitor Donnie Myers. He talked with McCarty daily for updates on the manhunt.
"Whenever there was a serious problem, Lewis was the person I went to for answers," Myers said. "He has great common sense and a wealth of experience."
Bell, 47, was put to death in 1996 for kidnapping and murdering Debra May Helmick, 9, and Shari Faye Smith, 17. He sexually assaulted the girls before suffocating them by wrapping duct tape around their heads.
Bell tormented Smith's family in a series of eight phone calls made after he kidnapped Smith. He eventually revealed where he had left Smith's body in Saluda County and also where he had dumped Helmick's body in Gilbert.
"The calls to the Smith family hit a lot of bells and whistles with the behavioral sciences unit at the FBI," McCarty said.
McCarty , a graduate of the FBI National Academy, worked closely with the FBI agents who created a psychological profile of Bell. It was the first time that investigative tool was used in Lexington County.
Col. Alvin Wright, chief law enforcement officer for the state Department of Natural Resources, and McCarty became close friends after working on the Bell case.
"He coordinated work assignments between three sheriff 's departments, three state police agencies and the FBI without any turf battles," Wright said.
During hunting and fishing trips, McCarty 's equipment included a mobile phone and two-way radio so that he could stay in touch with deputies, Wright said.
McCarty had an open-door office policy, said Richard Breibart, a Lexington lawyer. He talked with anyone who needed help.
"When things were in a jam, you could always call Lewis for help," Breibart said. "He's a straight shooter who wanted to see justice done."
Scottie Frier, a veteran detective with the Sheriff 's Department, said McCarty liked to chat with investigators and requested daily briefings on major cases.
"He was like a father who guided you to do the right thing," Frier said. "He nurtured a family here at the department."
McCarty retired primarily to spend more time with his family. At his retirement party, he smiled while carrying his grandchildren.
On his last work day, McCarty shared M&M candy with a granddaughter, who calls him, "Buddy." He thanked her for helping to wrap awards and other mementos.
"I pushed people to make a commitment to help somebody," McCarty said. " I would hope people say I did the very best I could."