SLED releases investigative report on former Berkeley County sheriff's arrest

SLED releases investigative report on former Berkeley County sheriff's arrest

BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division has released its investigative report on the arrest of former Berkeley County Sheriff Wayne DeWitt.

The report sheds more light on the Hanahan Police Department's response to the December incident and the Hanahan PD officer who stopped DeWitt who has been identified as a former Berkeley County Sheriff's deputy.

The report's release comes after the announcement that a Berkeley County Grand Jury indicted Dewitt on three charges on Tuesday. The indictments are for driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an accident and failure to stop for blue lights for the Dec. 28, 2014 incident.

Authorities originally did not charge DeWitt with failure to stop for blue lights which led to protests outside the Hanahan Police Department, and was a new charge brought upon DeWitt following SLED's investigation of the case. 

Solicitor Scarlett Wilson states she requested the SLED investigation, and cited a hand written statement by the Hanahan police officer who made contact with DeWitt and a Hanahan PD case summary report that contained information that "appeared to be in conflict."

According to Wilson, both documents were prepared by the responding Hanahan police officer and provided to her by Police Chief Mike Cochran. 

Wilson stated that she was "concerned about the contradictory nature" of the officer's statements, but said proving a criminal offense against the officer "would not be successful." Wilson reported that the officer gave a statement that his patrol car's emergency lights were not working properly, yet video and radio transmissions said otherwise.

Furthermore, the officer said it was not DeWitt's intention to evade him, a point of contention addressed in the investigation.

"In the final analysis of the failure to stop charge, the video and radio transmissions are the best evidence of [the officer's] pursuit of DeWitt and DeWitt's failure to stop," Wilson stated in a letter to SLED.

When SLED agents interviewed the responding Hanahan police officer on Jan. 12, the officer said he started his career at the Berkeley County Detention Center in 2008 as a correctional officer and transferred in 2011 to the sheriff's office. 

In 2014, the officer said he was involved in an accident and discovered his driver's license was under suspension. He was given the option to resign from the sheriff's office instead of being terminated. The officer says DeWitt was the sheriff while he was employed at the sheriff's office, but "rarely saw or communicated" with the sheriff while he was there. 

In regards to the incident involving DeWitt in December, the officer said he saw a truck approaching him at a high rate of speed and noticed the driver "operating the vehicle in an 'erratic' manner."

The officer told SLED agents that after the truck went past him, "he turned his blue lights on and noticed his rear lights were on first." The officer said the truck failed to maintain its lane, almost "clipped" his patrol car and reached speeds of 108 mph. 

A SLED report states the officer said he could not get his siren on after trying several times and used his horn to activate the siren. 

The officer reported that after the truck slowed down and turned on Bankton Circle, he radioed the dispatcher his location and the license plate number. 

During the traffic stop, the officer said he and his supervisor saw a gold badge in the driver's wallet and discovered it was a Berkeley County Sheriff's Office badge. The officer reported that his supervisor looked at the driver's license and discovered the driver was the sheriff of Berkeley County. 

The officer said his supervisor told him to return to his patrol car, away from the truck, since he used to work for Berkeley County. A SLED report states the supervisor told the officer to stay back because "he did not want anyone to say" that he stopped DeWitt because he was fired from the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office. 

The officer told SLED agents that he did not know the driver of the truck was DeWitt until several minutes after the traffic stop. 

According to the SLED report, the officer said the reason why he had turned his blue lights on during the incident was for failure to maintain lane; he believed the driver was possibly under the influence after failing to stop for him. The officer explained that he was not going to charge the driver with any criminal offenses even before he knew the driver was DeWitt, and said he was not sure if the driver knew that police were behind him. 

The officer told SLED agents that after the traffic stop, he told Cochran that he did not feel comfortable after reading information from blogs in regards to the incident. 

According to authorities, the officer then contacted an attorney who was representing him in a Family Court matter. The officer said the attorney told him to prepare a written statement that he would give to Cochran. 

SLED agents asked the officer to explain several issues he mentioned in the written statement provided by his lawyer. 

The officer said he wrote the statement after someone wrote on a blog questioning why DeWitt wasn't originally charged with failure to stop for a blue light. The told SLED agents that he had been in four high speed chases with vehicles during his tenure as a law enforcement officer, and did not think the truck was trying to evade him. 

Additionally, the officer said he was not convinced that the driver of the truck knew there was a police car behind him with flashing lights. The officer said he was sure he activated the rear blue lights, but was not sure when he activated the front blue lights. 

The officer reported that he estimated the distance from when he activated his blue lights until the pick-up truck stopped was about one and one-half miles. 

SLED agents interviewed Cochran on Jan. 12 in which he said that he was notified about the incident involving DeWitt shortly after it happened. Cochran said he advised his officers not to post or discuss information about the incident on Facebook or any other social media outlets.

The SLED report states Cochran spoke with the responding officer and said that he did his job.

Authorities say on Jan. 5, Cochran said he met with an attorney representing the Hanahan police officer who presented him a statement on his client's behalf. During this time, Cochran said that the lawyer said "something to the effect" of "Wayne really appreciates how y'all are handling the situation."

Cochran said the statement seemed to give the impression that there was "some type of close relationship between the two or that DeWitt and [the lawyer] had a conversation about the incident or written statement."

According to investigative documents, Cochran believed the interaction to be a "ruse" or a way to get him to discuss the case or talk about DeWitt with him.

Cochran said he did not speak with the Hanahan police officer about the statement, and forwarded it instead to Wilson.

Cochran also provided a compact disc of the officer's radio transmission of the incident. A SLED report states that during the time the officer was behind the pick-up truck driven by DeWitt, he made a radio transmission to the effect of "He won't stop for me."

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