Allegations of Corruption by a S.C. Sheriff in Overriding ICE Detainers

By Dan Cadman on August 26, 2014

A friend has made me aware of a legal battle playing out in South Carolina. This coming September 3, there is to be a pretrial conference between the federal government and longtime Lexington County Sheriff James Metts, who is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for bribery, conspiracy, and other charges. Metts is the longest-serving sheriff in South Carolina, having first been elected in 1972.

Metts was indicted this past June for allegedly accepting bribes from friends and families of illegal aliens who had been arrested and charged by sheriff's deputies acting in an immigration capacity under the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cross-designation program, labeled "287(g)" after the section of law that authorizes such cross-designations. Once such bribes had been paid, the government charges, Metts would ensure that the aliens were released, notwithstanding the fact that detainers had been filed to ensure that they would be turned over to ICE for deportation proceedings.

There are several interesting wrinkles in this unfolding drama, all of which touch on hotspots in the immigration debate raging today. First is the fact that the federal government, which under this administration has done all that it possibly can to eviscerate immigration law enforcement, is indicting Metts for abuse of a cross-designation program that it has all but dismantled. (See, for instance, "Obama Administration Proposes to Cut 287(g) Funding".)

Then there is the fact that Metts, like most all of the sheriffs in both North and South Carolina, has been a staunch advocate of immigration law enforcement – including through honoring of detainers at a time when 100 or so sheriffs in other jurisdictions large and small have decided they do not wish to honor them anymore. These decisions, so obviously contrary to the public safety of the communities they serve, have been engendered in no small measure by public assertions from senior administration officials (without any substantive legal analysis to back them up) that whether or not to honor detainers is purely a matter of volition on the part of state and local enforcement agencies. (For more on detainers see "Bad Cases, Bad Case Law: The Third Circuit rules that honoring ICE detainers is discretionary" and "ICE Policy Change on Detainers Fuels Lawsuits to Obstruct Enforcement".)

It is ironic, then, that in striking a blow for clean government – if in fact Sheriff Metts is guilty, which remains to be seen – the administration may also be furthering its own sub rosa goal of driving a wedge between those remaining sheriff's agencies in the Carolinas who recognize that serving the public also means cooperating with immigration authorities in detecting and removing criminal aliens from the streets.

Let us hope that whatever the outcome of this trial, it is understood for what it is: a judgment about whether or not corrupt practices existed in the Lexington County Sheriff's Office, and nothing more.