Sheriff admits affair with subordinate in court filing

Published: May. 7, 2014 at 8:52 PM EDT|Updated: May. 17, 2014 at 2:41 PM EDT
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DARLINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Court records connected to a 2012 lawsuit against Darlington County Sheriff Wayne Byrd contain admissions by the two-term sheriff that he was involved in a sexual affair with one of his female employees. Sheriff Wayne Byrd admitted the affair in an April 22 court filing.

Byrd, a married father of two, was sued in 2012 by a deputy he fired the night he won reelection in June 2012. The deputy, former Lieutenant Mike Hall, told WIS he believed he was fired because Byrd wanted to "cover up" evidence of an affair after an email between Byrd and the woman was obtained by sheriff's employees.

In the April 22 filing, Byrd's attorney answered eight questions posed to Byrd's legal team by Hall's attorney, James Smith. In the filing, Byrd admits he fired Hall and spoke to one reporter about activities Byrd claims deputies were engaged in. Among the reasons listed in the complaint: "…sheriff's deputies had engaged in campaigning or political activity while on the clock," "…deputies engaged in campaign activity while on duty," and that "…sheriff's deputies had misused county computers during the election campaign."

The filing shows Byrd denied telling reporters he fired the deputies for "printing reports they should not have." Those reports, Hall alleged, were the emails between Byrd and Jeffords leaked from inside the sheriff's office.

Hall's attorney also asked in the filing whether Byrd had ever participated in any "acts of a sexual nature of any kind whatsoever," with his subordinate employee, Kristan Jeffords. The filing shows Byrd admitted, "to consensual sexual relationship with Kristan Jeffords." As for the email between Byrd and Jeffords, Byrd's attorney wrote, "The Defendant admits authoring the content of the attached email and forwarding it to Ms. Jeffords."

WIS started its own investigation in April 2012 when a sheriff's office source handed us the Byrd-Jeffords email. The source told us it was from Sheriff Byrd and was meant for a Byrd records technician, Kristan Jeffords, which Byrd admits in the April 22, 2014 filing. The email was printed off a county computer and appears to be love letter.

We held onto the letter in case it became pertinent to a future investigation involving the sheriff's office. In June 2012, 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 alleged that.

Former Lt. Hall, a 21-year veteran of the Darlington County Sheriff's Office, got a knock at his door just before midnight on June 12, 2012 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. Hall told WIS then, he had no idea why Byrd fired him that night and said he never got an answer from Sheriff Byrd.

"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 at the sheriff's office the day after the firings and shot video of the sheriff's commanders taking 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." Byrd denied the last statement in his latest court filing.

Hall said all Byrd's statements as to the reasons for the firings are untrue, "I can't speak for the other guys, that's their business, but no, not with me," Hall told WIS in July 2012. Hall thinks the email we obtained through a source in 2012 might explain why he lost his job.

The email was sent from Sheriff Byrd's Gmail account to Kristan Jeffords' Yahoo email account. At the time the email was sent, Jeffords was working as Byrd's assistant in the sheriff's office. She also rode in the sheriff's mounted patrol unit and several pictures on Byrd's Facebook account show the pair together riding horses in public events.

The email, which is now attached to the lawsuit as an exhibit states, "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 in June 2012. 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 told WIS during our 2012 investigation into the lawsuit.

The suit claims 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 in 2012. "He [Hall] was the scapegoat. He was the way to sort of, somehow place blame for what was actually going on," Smith said.

Lawsuit status

The last filing inside the Darlington County courthouse in the Hall v. Byrd suit was and order signed Feb. 2, 2014. In that order, circuit Judge Michael Baxley handed down a decision on a dismissal motion filed by Byrd's attorney, Mark W. Buyck, III. Byrd's team wanted Baxley to throw the suit out, which would have ended the case. Baxley did not do that.

In the suit, Hall accused Byrd of "wrongful termination in violation of public policy and civil conspiracy." Baxley granted Byrd a dismissal on the "civil conspiracy," but upheld the other allegations listed in the suit for a jury to decide.

Byrd's lawyers argued state law gives a sheriff the "unfettered right" to fire any employee. The judge wrote that when it comes to "First Amendment Implications," a sheriff does not have the "unfettered right" to fire a deputy.

"In the present case, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that Defendant Wayne Byrd was having an illicit affair with a subordinate, and was concerned that this information might become public and harm his efforts at re-election as the Sheriff of Darlington County," Baxley wrote in his order.

"Plaintiff further claims that his employment as a Sheriff's Deputy was terminated as part of a plan by Defendant Byrd to cover up this affair…," the order continued. The judge denied tossing that part of Hall's complaint because of Baxley's belief that Hall has a freedom of speech argument to be made in the lawsuit.

The April 22 filing is Byrd's responses to a list of questions from Hall's legal team as part of a "Request to Admit" filing, which is the beginning of the discovery process in the civil suit. The process provides an opportunity for either side to admit or deny relevant facts in a lawsuit. The court requires answers submitted in filings such as this to be done under oath.

The file inside the courthouse does not contain any currently filed motions and no dates for future hearings as of this report.

Because Sheriff Byrd does county business with his Gmail account, we filed a Freedom of Information request to see those emails during our 2012 investigation. We also filed a request for Kristan Jeffords' county email account. Weeks later, the sheriff handed us a disk with some of his emails from his official county account, but that wasn't what we requested.

The email attached to the Hall complaint that Byrd now admits to sending Jeffords was not included in the 2012 response to our Freedom of Information Act request. Byrd still has not explained to WIS why he never complied with the FOIA request and turned that email over.

The sheriff has refused to talk with us since we first broke this report about why we haven't been able to see the records.

During our 2012 investigation, we uncovered a budget request in which Byrd planned to give Jeffords—a records technician—the highest raise in the department at $9,700. In contrast, another records tech, Edith Williams, who had 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 in 2012.

However, Byrd did email us a statement, saying the story is two years old and the facts have not changed.

"My wife, my family, and my God are fully aware of my actions, and have been aware since the beginning. They have forgiven me and we are moving forward in our private lives. I am a flawed human being with feet of clay and I take complete responsibility for my actions, both public and private. I ask the people of Darlington County for their forgiveness and hope they will judge me on my record as Sheriff," said Byrd.

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