The South Carolina Sheriff's Association has terminated Greenville County Sheriff Will Lewis'’ membership citing “conduct detrimental to the interests of the Association and the Office of Sheriff,” the organization said in a release Monday night.
The move comes after Lewis publicly admitted to a "consensual encounter" with a former Sheriff's Office employee last month, according to Jarrod Bruder, executive director of the Sheriff's Association.
The board of directors unanimously voted on the decision at a special called meeting Monday, Bruder said. It was the first time the association has used its ability to remove a sheriff’s membership since its bylaws were changed in 2015, he said.
“We are not, in any way, trying to be the moral police,” Lancaster County Sheriff and Sheriff’s Association President Barry Faile said in a statement.
However, “we can no longer allow our badges to be tarnished by the actions of others. We want to send a clear message to our citizens — we as Sheriffs, will do what is right at all times, not just when it is convenient.”
Termination of membership in the Sheriff's Association has no impact on Lewis' ability to remain in office, according to Bruder. A terminated membership, however, will prevent Lewis from attending “critical training events, information sharing sessions and other Association sponsored events.”
Bruder said Lewis was afforded due process within the Association but chose not to defend the charge of “conduct detrimental to the Association.”
The board’s decision was based on Lewis’ public confession to an extramarital affair and not on any of the allegations in the lawsuit the former employee filed against him,Bruder has said.
The employee, Savanah Nabors, has accused Lewis of sexual assault, sexual harassment and stalking. Lewis has denied the allegations and said he plans to continue to serve as sheriff.
The State Law Enforcement Division is continuing to investigate those allegations.
Members of Greenville County Council have already passed a resolution calling on Lewis to resign and say they've lost confidence in Lewis' ability to lead the largest law enforcement agency in the state.
Gov. Henry McMaster and Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant have also called on Lewis to step down.
If, at some point in the future, Lewis requests that his membership be reinstated, the board may consider such a request at their discretion, Bruder said.
His terminated membership will not prevent any Greenville sheriff’s deputy from attending training offered by the Association, Bruder added.
The Sheriff's Association exists to serve the sheriffs of the state, to provide training for sheriff’s offices and to lobby on behalf of sheriff’s offices at the Statehouse. It invites the sheriffs from all 46 South Carolina counties to be regular members, Bruder said.
Greenville News Staff writer Nathaniel Cary contributed.