COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The former sheriff of Colleton County entered into a plea agreement during a court case Friday and pleaded guilty to three charges.
Andy Strickland pleaded guilty to misconduct in office, third degree assault and battery and breach of trust with fraudulent intent (more than $2,000 but less than $10,000) during a virtual court hearing Friday. The pleas were part of a plea agreement with the state.
For the misconduct and breach of trust charges, the Honorable Judge R. Markley Dennis, Jr. sentenced Strickland to 5 years, suspended upon the service of five years' probation, South Carolina Attorney General’s Office spokesman Robert Kittle said. Dennis also ordered 200 hours of community service and random drug and alcohol testing.
As part of the plea agreement, Strickland agreed to resign as sheriff and permanently relinquish his law enforcement credentials.
“I’m really proud of the work our State Grand Jury section did on this case,” Attorney General Alan Wilson said. “It’s vitally important that we hold our public officials accountable for their actions.”
For the felony breach of trust indictment, Strickland admitted that while he was sheriff, he had deputies and staff performing services for him, his businesses, and on his property for his personal benefit during their work hours, Kittle said. Strickland conceded he used county property and resources for his personal benefit and for personal work on his properties, businesses, and for personal concerns. Strickland admitted he breached the public trust to ensure that Colleton County resources were used for official purposes only, and not for his personal interests. Strickland also admitted to using his control over county time, property, and resources to facilitate and continue an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate county employee.
Strickland also pled guilty to third-degree assault and battery charge for a physical attack on his girlfriend during the night of Nov. 7, 2019, after Strickland found a text message on the victim’s cell phone that he wrongly believed was evidence of the victim’s infidelity, Kittle said.
After entering the guilty pleas, Strickland addressed the court, apologizing to the judge, the people of Colleton County and his family.
“This last 323 days have been hard for me,” Strickland said. “It’s something that’s been in a place I’ve never been, I never thought I’d be, and it’s taught me a lot. It’s very humbling.”
Strickland, who turns 41 later this month, said he is still a young man and looks forward to getting all of this behind him.
“I thought my life was over this last year. I’ve come to find out this is just the beginning,” he said. “I may not like the situation I’m in, however I put myself here and I understand that.”
Prior to Friday’s pleas, Strickland faced several charges from Colleton and Horry Counties.
Strickland was arrested on Nov. 9 in connection with the domestic violence incident. An affidavit states that during an argument, Strickland assaulted the victim by “punching her in the face, with a closed fist, more than once, which caused moderate bodily injury.” Investigators also said the victim suffered a defensive injury to her arm in an attempt to protect her face.
Strickland physically took possession of the victim’s cell phones, “blocking her access to both cell phones, preventing her from reporting the incident or receiving emergency medical assistance,” the affidavit states. Investigators say he also damaged the vehicle she attempted to flee in. Agents with the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division investigated the incident, court documents stated.
Gov. Henry McMaster suspended Strickland from office after he was indicted on Nov. 21, 2019, by the Colleton County Grand Jury for second-degree domestic violence.
Then in February, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced the unsealing of a 13-county indictment and a two-count indictment by the state grand jury regarding allegations of public corruption.
Court documents showed Strickland was indicted in Horry county for misconduct in office and distribution of a Schedule IV controlled substance.
He was indicted in Colleton County on six counts of misconduct in office, three counts of embezzlement, two counts of use of official position for financial gain, use of public funds, property or time to influence an election and distribution of a Schedule II substance.
Voters elected Strickland as Colleton County sheriff in 2012, when he ran as a Democrat. He successfully ran for re-election in 2016 as a Republican.