DARLINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - WIS started its own investigation more than 3 months ago when a sheriff's office source handed us an email. The source told us it was from Sheriff Byrd and was meant for a female subordinate. The email appears to have been printed off a county computer and appears to be love letter.
Then last month, after a rash of firings, we started looking a little closer at why those deputies lost their jobs and if the email had anything to do with it. A lawsuit filed with the county attorney alleges just that.
Former Lt. Mike Hall, a 21-year veteran of the Darlington County Sheriff's Office, got a knock at his door just before midnight on June 12 from sheriff's office Capt. John McLeod.
McLeod, surrounded by four other deputies, had bad news for Hall in the form of a letter of termination.
"He fired me for the sheriff right there on my deck," Hall said.
The letter offered no explanation, simply that Sheriff Byrd didn't need Hall's services anymore. Now, more than 5 weeks later, it's still a mystery as to why he lost his job.
"All I can say is I would have to look him in the eye and ask him why," Hall said. "What did I do?"
Hall says he wasn't ready to leave the sheriff's office.
We were there as the sheriff's commanders took inventory of the fired deputies' cars, guns, and equipment.
Byrd took to the media to explain why he fired the deputies. First, he said they were misusing county computers, then he said they were campaigning on the clock. He also told a Myrtle Beach TV station that the deputies were "going through some of the offices, printing out reports and things that they should not have been and different things like that."
Hall says both those statements are untrue.
"I can't speak for the other guys, that's their business, but no, not with me," Hall said.
Hall thinks the email we obtained through a source 3 months ago might explain why he lost his job.
The email appears to be from Sheriff Byrd's Gmail account to Kristan Jeffords, his assistant at the sheriff's office.
It reads, "I stand here tonight longing for your touch. I can't have you and I can't live without you. Our day will come. I want you. I need you. I love you. Signed, Wayne."
The email surfaced 2 months before we ever met Mike Hall. Hall says he had nothing to do with it in the first place.
"It's none of my business what he did. I could care less, and people have talked about it. Most of the department has talked about it," Hall said. "Why is he singling me out? Do I feel like that's why I got fired? Yeah, I sure do. Exactly why."
Hall hired Columbia attorney and state Rep. James Smith to clear his name, and to help save his law enforcement career.
"The effort to terminate some of these individuals was essentially an effort to create a false -- what is a false story -- a story to explain away the email. Well, the fact is he can't do that. The email is pretty hard evidence of what has been going on," Smith said.
Smith filed a lawsuit last week, and we were there as a process server delivered it to the sheriff. The suit says Byrd fired Hall and the other deputies in an effort to keep an "illicit affair" a secret.
"We have evidence and evidence has come forward since bringing this case that shows, specifically, an illicit affair between the sheriff and someone else," Smith said.
"He was the scapegoat. He was the way to sort of, somehow place blame for what was actually going on," Smith said.
Because Sheriff Byrd does county business with his Gmail account, we filed a Freedom of Information request to see those emails. We also filed a request for Kristan Jeffords' county email account.
The sheriff handed us a disk with some of his emails from his official county account, but that wasn't what we requested. The sheriff has refused to talk with us about why we haven't been able to see the records.
Kristen Jeffords works as a records tech for Byrd. We uncovered a budget request in which Byrd planned to give Jeffords the highest raise in the department at $9,700. In contrast, another records tech, Edith Williams, who has nearly 30 years of service at the sheriff's office, was set to get the standard increase of $576.
Then, four days after we filed an open records request for the Byrd emails, Jeffords started training to become a deputy at the state's police academy.
We went to Byrd several times to get him to explain the emails and the pay raise. He showed no interest in talking with us and our messages were not returned.
"I want my name cleared," Hall said.
Meanwhile, Hall is trying to figure out how he's going to start over professionally.
"I'm not saying nothing bad about the man. I wish him no bad luck. None, whatsoever. I wish him the best. If he can lay his head on his pillow at night and sleep knowing he's done this to me, God bless him," Hall said.
Sheriff Byrd has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit, which is currently sitting in the county attorney's office.
Hall's attorney plans to issue subpoenas to Google for the sheriff's emails, as well as Kristan Jeffords' personal Yahoo email account.
Hall was scheduled to have a grievance hearing on Friday, but it was cancelled and rescheduled to a later date.