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Sheriff James R. Metts


James R. Metts has devoted his career to law enforcement, starting as a dispatcher with the West Columbia Police Department in 1967. In 1972, at the age of 25, Metts became the youngest sheriff ever elected in the nation. He has served as sheriff of Lexington County since December 15, 1972, earning him the longest tenure for a Republican currently holding elected office in South Carolina.

Sheriff Metts has earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, a Master’s degree in criminal justice and a Doctorate in education, all from the University of South Carolina. He is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the National Sheriff’s Institute and the National Corrections Academy.

In 2002, Sheriff Metts graduated from the prestigious Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government, an intensive three-week management seminar at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In August of that same year, Sheriff Metts enrolled as the first South Carolina sheriff ever accepted in the South Carolina Executive Institute. He graduated from that executive management program in March 2003.

In 1998, Governor David Beasley awarded Sheriff Metts the Order of the Palmetto – the highest civilian honor that a governor can bestow in South Carolina. Then, in 2004, Governor Mark Sanford presented Sheriff Metts with the Order of the Silver Crescent – an award presented to South Carolina residents for “exemplary performance, contribution and achievement within the community”.

In 1982, the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association named Metts “Sheriff of the Year.” That same year, the University of South Carolina named him “Distinguished Alumnus.” In 1980, the Southern Association of Criminal Justice Educators named Sheriff Metts “Practitioner of the Year”, and he continues to teach graduate-level criminal justice classes at Charleston Southern University.

Over the years, Sheriff Metts has established a reputation as an innovative law enforcement administrator. For example, he was the first sheriff in South Carolina to hire school resource officers and victim assistance officers, and he was the first South Carolina sheriff to employ women as sworn law enforcement officers. He also was the first sheriff in the state to implement mandatory drug screening and psychological testing of prospective deputies.

Sheriff Metts was the first South Carolina sheriff to assign a team of deputies to specifically conduct traffic enforcement patrols aimed at deterring motorists from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This contributed to the National Safety Council awarding Sheriff Metts, in 1992, with the J. Stannard Baker Traffic Safety Award – the nation’s highest honor for contributions to highway safety.

Metts also led the effort to create the Lexington County Criminal Domestic Violence Court, which was the first court in South Carolina to be solely dedicated to handling criminal domestic violence cases. The court includes an intensive treatment program for abusers and their families. A 2003 study financed by the U.S. Department of Justice and conducted by the University of South Carolina showed the Lexington County Criminal Domestic Violence Court to be a national model for curbing domestic violence.

In 2006, Sheriff Metts successfully obtained national recognition as a Certified Jail Manager through the American Jail Association.

Throughout his career, Sheriff Metts has promoted the well being of children by raising money for the Ronald McDonald House, the American Cancer Society, the Leukemia Society and other organizations that serve children. He led the effort to build the Nancy K. Perry Children’s Shelter, which houses abused and neglected children in Lexington County. He also supported construction of the Dickerson Center for Children, which provides psychological treatment for children who have been physically and sexually abused and assists law enforcement in gathering forensic evidence in abuse cases.

As a professional law enforcement administrator, Metts has served as a role model for children by participating in school programs to promote reading and by working with Boy Scout troops across Lexington County. Sheriff Metts, who is an Eagle Scout, is the recipient of the Silver Beaver Award – the highest civilian honor bestowed by the Boy Scouts of America, and he started the first Boy Scouts of America Law Enforcement Explorer Post at the Sheriff’s Department, providing an opportunity for hundreds of teenagers to receive first-hand experience about a career in law enforcement. Over the years, he has hired many former explorer scouts to work as full-time deputies with the department.

As sheriff, Metts earned national recognition in 1985, when he led the largest manhunt in South Carolina history. He coordinated a law enforcement taskforce that included three state agencies and the FBI in the search for serial killer Larry Gene Bell, who kidnapped and later killed two girls in Lexington and Richland counties. Bell was captured after a two-month manhunt. Bell was later convicted of murder and received a death sentence, which was carried out in 1996. The case was the subject of a made-for-television movie, “Nightmare in Columbia County,” which first aired in 1991. The case was also featured in the book “Mindhunter,” written by former FBI agent John Douglas who pioneered psychological profiling in the United States.

Sheriff Metts is married to the former Carol Richardson. They have three daughters, three granddaughters and three grandsons. Sheriff Metts and his wife attend Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Lexington where he has taught Sunday school and served several terms on the Church Council, including stints as chairman, secretary and treasurer.


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