When 10th Judicial Circuit Court Judge R. Lawton McIntosh sentenced former Abbeville County Sheriff Charles Goodwin for a misdemeanor count of misconduct in office earlier this year, he told the longtime lawman he had betrayed the trust of a community that had put its confidence in him.
"You are a constitutionally elected officer who has the public trust," McIntosh said during the Jan. 18 hearing at the Greenville County Courthouse. "By having the public trust, you're held to a higher standard. And as such, you have a higher responsibility to bear. You are in violation of that trust."
Now, two months later, four candidates are gearing up for Tuesday's Democratic primary, hoping to earn the right to represent the blue party in the May 14 special election to supplant Goodwin.
Greenwood County Sheriff's Office chief investigator Ray Watson, longtime Abbeville County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Marion Johnson, Abbeville Police Department Lt. Raymond Vandiver, and former APD Lt. Bobby Hall will be squaring off in the primary run. The winner faces lone Republican candidate Skipper O'Bannon in the May 14 election, to determine who finishes out Goodwin's term.
Whichever of the five hopefuls that wins will have to contend with the broken trust left in the wake of their predecessor.
Goodwin was elected to his seventh term in November, accumulating more than 47 percent of the vote. But his fall from grace began during last year's Democratic primary, when an Abbeville County resident publicly leaked a copy of a videotape during a June County Council meeting. The footage, originally filmed in 2001, showed Goodwin engaged in sex acts with an ACSO employee on county property. County Council voted to request the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate the situation in July. That investigation led to a state grand jury indictment against him on Jan. 15, less than two weeks after he was inaugurated to his seventh term. Goodwin resigned from his post of 24 years the night before the indictment was announced. He pleaded guilty, standing before McIntosh, four days later to the allegations he misused prison inmate labor and got kickbacks from county funds paid to an Abbeville County body shop for several years.
Many of the candidates and Abbeville County officials described Goodwin as a beloved figure in the community and said his conviction deflated many residents' belief in the notion of law enforcement. Watson said that would be the biggest hurdle for the next sheriff to overcome. All four pledged to restore integrity back to the position.
"It's going to be tough because they put faith in Charles for so many years," Watson said. "I mean, even myself. I always voted for him. And it's going to be tough because when as many people put faith in somebody like that, it's tough to build back. It's not just going to happen overnight."
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