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Former sheriff involved in struggle before death

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By Sam Hickman

 Former Brunswick County Sheriff Ronald Hewett died in the New Hanover County jail about Saturday afternoon, July 12, following a physical altercation with jailers, New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon said.

Hewett, 51, was arrested Wednesday, July 9, on a possession of a firearm by a felon charge, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He was in custody at the New Hanover County jail after an initial appearance in federal court in Wilmington on Thursday, July 10.

Sgt. Jerry Brewer said McMahon and the New Hanover County District Attorney’s Office requested an investigation into the former sheriff's death by the State Bureau of Investigation, which is normal in the case of any inmate death in North Carolina.

McMahon said Hewett was being removed from his cell for a visit with his mother and girlfriend shortly after 2 p.m. “when there was an altercation between Hewett and a deputy.”

McMahon would not say whether a Taser was used to subdue Hewett as other media outlets have reported, but did say an internal affairs investigation has been launched to determine whether the jailers involved followed standard operating procedure.

The sheriff’s office has not placed anyone on administrative leave or suspended anyone in Hewett’s death, he said.

“Internal affairs investigations are deemed confidential, but if that is the situation with this case once it has been conducted, then I am willing to request that information be released because it benefits the community,” McMahon said.

The SBI has footage from multiple video cameras that captured the altercation, McMahon said.

“All of the video from the Detention Center has been turned over,” Brewer wrote in an email to the Beacon.

Hewett’s cause and manner of death were not released by press time. An autopsy was performed Monday, July 14.

Brewer directed other questions about Hewett’s death to the U.S. Marshals Office.

U.S. Marshal Bryan Konig said he would not release any additional information about the matter until it was available.

During Hewett’s initial appearance in federal court, U.S. Magistrate Robert B. Jones Jr. ordered him to remain in custody until a probable cause hearing Friday, July 18.

According to an affidavit in a criminal complaint, multiple firearms were found at Hewett’s Supply residence Wednesday, July 9. Brunswick County sheriff’s deputies took Hewett into custody about 2 p.m. Wednesday, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Emily Flax said.

Chad Nesbit, an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, wrote in a probable cause affidavit the firearms confiscated from Hewett’s Holden Beach Road home included a .38-caliber revolver found in the top drawer of a bedside table. Nesbit noted the revolver had to have come into Hewett’s possession through interstate or foreign commerce because it was not manufactured in North Carolina.

The quantity and type of the other firearms seized are not detailed in the document, but as a convicted felon, Hewett was not allowed to possess any firearms, Nesbit wrote.

Hewett’s girlfriend, Kay Patterson, was present when the home was searched. She said she moved into the residence in March and none of the firearms were hers, Nesbit wrote.

If Hewett was convicted, he faced up to 10 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Hewett served a year of a 16-month sentence for obstruction of justice in federal prison before he was released in 2010.

Hewett pleaded guilty in federal court June 2, 2008, to a count of obstructing justice. His sentence, handed down Oct. 6, 2008, included a $10,000 fine and two years of probation. The charge stemmed from an investigation that began in 2006 into whether Hewett was ordering deputies on duty to perform labor on his house and land and work on re-election campaigns.

Hewett also was convicted in October 2008 in state court on three counts of embezzlement.

Hewett was first elected sheriff of Brunswick County in 1994 at age 31. He was the youngest person to be elected to the office in state history and held it for 14 years.

Before he was elected sheriff for the first time, he began his law enforcement career with the Holden Beach Police Department, where he was sworn in on his 20h birthday. He was named D.A.R.E. Officer of the Year in 1993.

He was the subject of a documentary, “Sheriff,” filmed in 2005, the same year he began serving a one-year term as the president of the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association.

In an interview with the Beacon that year, Hewett said it was his lifelong goal as a Brunswick County native to serve as his home county’s sheriff.

Hewett described the documentary as depicting him as a realistic combination of legendary late Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser and Andy Griffith, the fictional sheriff portrayed on television.

“It made the national reviews,” he said. “It says, ‘Here’s this guy; he knows right, and he knows wrong, but he’s somewhere in the middle of gray.’ That’s how I’ve been described, and I am because I know good, and I know bad. I know I can be mean as Buford Pusser and as down-home as Andy Griffith. And that’s me; that’s my life. …

“I’ve had to fight. I’ve had to struggle,” he said. “I have had to work hard to get where I am for such a young man, and I can thank God, my family and the voters of Brunswick County for allowing me the opportunity to serve.”

McMahon said he remembers Hewett in his prime.

“I can remember as a young deputy, he would actually take time to come over and shake my hand and address you … as the high sheriff, we were very, very impressed with him,” McMahon said.

 

Sam Hickman is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or shickman@brunswickbeacon.com.