New Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon is undecided on allowing his deputies to resume detention of illegal immigrants, an effort that led to prison for his predecessor.
Koon is “continuing to evaluate” becoming partners again with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in identifying and handling such immigrants, spokesman Maj. John Allard said Monday.
It’s a sensitive decision for Koon, elected the top county lawman April 21.
Koon and the other three candidates for sheriff kept quiet about the matter during their campaign, partly because no one made it an issue.
Former Sheriff James Metts is heading to prison for nearly a year after pleading guilty to interference in the handling of two immigrants in 2011 at the county jail. Federal prosecutors say he did it so they could work at a restaurant run by a political supporter instead of face deportation.
ICE officials put assistance from Lexington County Sheriff’s deputies on hold after Metts was indicted by federal prosecutors last June. The partnership was first launched in 2010.
Joining forces again is “still under review,” ICE spokesman Vincent Picard said Monday.
No indication was given on how soon a decision will be made.
Metts was accused initially of taking bribes, but those charges were dropped after he agreed to plead guilty to harboring illegal immigrants. His plea ended a 42-career as one of South Carolina’s most prominent and longest-serving sheriffs in disgrace.
No count was kept of the number of illegal immigrants handled in Lexington County by either law enforcement agency.
But federal officials continue to use the county jail to house immigrants they detain.
ICE agents will continue to police immigration alone in the 758-square-mile county if Koon and federal officials aren’t able to reach an agreement that would restore Lexington County deputies to that role.
Meanwhile, State Grand Jury charges are pending against restaurant owner Greg Leon for paying the bribes and former Lexington Town Councilman Danny Frazier for relaying the payments.
Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483