DARLINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - After receiving an email from a Darlington County Sheriff's Office source, WIS, sister station to WMBF News, started its own investigation more than three months ago. The source claimed the email was from Sheriff Byrd and was meant for a female subordinate. The email had been printed off a county computer and appeared to be a love letter.
Then last month, after a rash of firings at the sheriff's office, a closer look was taken at why those deputies lost their jobs and if the email had anything to do with it.
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 five 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.
WIS crews were present 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.
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 given to WIS through a source three months ago might explain why he lost his job.
The email appears to be from Sheriff Byrd's Gmail account to Kristen 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 two 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 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.
Smith says Hall was the scapegoat in this.
"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, WIS filed a Freedom of Information request to see those emails. In addition, a request was filed for Kristen Jeffords' county email account.
The sheriff released a disk with some of his emails from his official county account, but that wasn't what had been requested. The sheriff has refused to speak about why the email records have not been released.
Kristen Jeffords works as a records tech for Byrd. It was uncovered in a budget request that 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 the paperwork was filed for an open records request for the Byrd emails, Jeffords started training to become a deputy at the state's police academy.
WIS went to Byrd several times to get him to explain the emails and the pay raise. He showed no interest in talking and 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 Kristen Jeffords' personal Yahoo email account.
Hall is scheduled for a grievance hearing Friday. We'll let you know how that turns out.