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My first day at the Beacon nearly two years ago I tagged along with a coworker and went to the sheriff’s office to retrieve our weekly crime reports.
The first person I met when I arrived was Ronald Hewett. He was kind and charming, welcoming me to his office and welcoming me to Brunswick County.
Before I knew it, I was the crime reporter, meeting with sheriff’s deputies weekly for incident reports, covering press conferences on homicides or other major crimes and calling Hewett whenever I needed a quote for a story.
Hewett always went out of his way to make sure I had what I needed, whether it was returning a phone call, or stopping by the Beacon to answer questions.
When news of the federal subpoena broke in June I kept an open mind. We at the Beacon decided our stance on the issue would be to remain fair and objective, reserving judgment until we had all the facts.
But few facts were available—grand jury proceedings are secret, and no information is made public until an indictment is handed down. This made for difficult reporting on a huge story about a huge personality.
I witnessed the toll the federal investigation took on Hewett. He lost weight; his eyes, which were once bursting with life, were often bloodshot and on the brink of tears.
In preparation for a feature story about Hewett, I sat with him for hours as he recounted his life to me—growing up in Brunswick County, ascending to the highest rank of local law enforcement in such a short time, his love for his family, his friends, and, more than anything, how important his faith was to him during the darkness of a federal investigation.
Of all of his accolades in law enforcement throughout the years he told me his finest moment was when working as a D.A.R.E. officer, he helped remove a young girl from an abusive home. He still talks to this girl, who is now a mother herself.
When documents subpoenaed by the federal grand jury were first released, I forced myself to remain objective, and not give in to rumor or speculation. For every document released that appeared to be incriminating, I searched for the full story.
As I read other media accounts of the subpoenaed documents, agenda-driven and laced with their own speculations, I always aimed for a different angle—for the whole story.
In hindsight, I think I may have made that extra call, or looked up that extra law because I believed Hewett was a man of character and integrity, not a man capable of corruption or extortion.
But the truth has made me a better reporter.
Just good enough has never been good enough for me, and it’s true with this story as well. For nearly 10 months I have been invested in this story about a man who grew up in Brunswick County.
I have turned over every stone, searching for the truth, bombarding agencies with public records requests in hopes to shed some light on what was really going on.
Last Thursday I found out, and it knocked the wind out of me.
After a press conference where Rex Gore announced Hewett’s suspension, I went home and stayed up until 3 a.m. reading the mounting allegations against Hewett.
I couldn’t believe the man I had grown to like and respect could be capable of such appalling behavior. Was this the same man who took on the persona of the larger than life crime fighter?
A good friend of Hewett’s told me he’s not the same person he was when he was elected. What changed him we may never know.
Perhaps it was the constant pressure of his office or the intoxicating power that accompanies it. Perhaps he gave in to personal demons that drove him to destructive and dangerous behavior. Only he knows.
But his actions put his deputies, his family and the public—the people who elected him to serve and protect—in danger.
The men and women of the sheriff’s office, who took the brave step of reporting Hewett’s actions in spite of the fear of losing their jobs, are to be commended for their service to the county. I have the utmost faith in the sheriff’s office, and the men and women who risk their lives every day to ensure our safety.
What Hewett’s future holds, I don’t know.
But the public should rest assured the men and women at the sheriff’s office are men and women of character and integrity, fighting to uphold the law.
At Hewett’s hearing Monday, I looked into his eyes—searching for the man I thought I knew. I want to believe he is still in there, ready to step up to the plate and accept the consequences of his actions.
For a man who claims his character means so much to him, there is no better time to prove it.
It is time for Hewett to resign as sheriff before being permanently forced out of office, apologize to the deputies and the public he hurt with his actions and let Brunswick County move forward with a new leader.
In the midst of criminal allegations and personal turmoil, the best way for Hewett to serve the people who elected and trusted him is to step down and face the music.
In this case, that’s what it means to serve and protect.
Caroline Curran is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email@example.com.