This article is related to The Post and Courier's Uncovered project, an ongoing initiative to shed light on corruption in South Carolina. The Post and Courier has partnered with 17 community newspapers across the state to bring investigative journalism to light. To read more Uncovered articles, go to https://www.postandcourier.com/uncovered/.
To read the initial Uncovered article on this topic, go to https://www.theitem.com/stories/uncovered-a-sumter-south-carolina-sheriff-a-rape-claim-and-silence-from-sled,377156.
Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis appeared with his wife during a press conference Wednesday morning to address rape allegations against him by a former employee, though he did not speak.
The press conference started a little after 11 a.m. and was over in less than five minutes. Dennis entered the multipurpose room with his wife, Sumter County’s assistant county administrator, Lorraine Dennis, Chief Deputy Hampton Gardner and secretary Felisha Dukes. He stood straight with his hands crossed as he looked out among the room of media personnel.
Sumter County court liaison Gwen Herod spoke first. She said the sheriff felt it was important that the public heard from the agency regarding the allegations published in the Uncovered article.
She introduced Shaun Kent, Dennis’ personal attorney, and Hampton.
Once Kent took to the podium, he said Dennis and the sheriff’s office “take allegations by victims very seriously and will do whatever is necessary to protect the people of Sumter County.” He then spoke on behalf of Dennis regarding the allegations.
“It must be stated that Sheriff Dennis vehemently denies this allegation,” Kent said. “As with any individual accused of a crime, the sheriff encourages a thoughtful and thorough investigation into the matter. Therefore, Sheriff Dennis has encouraged a thoughtful and thorough investigation into this matter.”
Kent said he was tasked by Dennis to engage an independent agent into the investigation, which will be Peter McCoy. McCoy is a former U.S. Attorney for South Carolina appointed by President Donald Trump and former chairman of the S.C. House Judiciary Committee and the receiver in the Murdaugh case in Hampton. He served as U.S. Attorney in 2020 for about a year and served House District 115 in Charleston for about a decade.
McCoy has his own legal practice and has worked with Kent in that capacity, Bartelme reported Wednesday. The two lawyers recently represented a town councilman in Summerton who became the focus of a SLED investigation after an Uncovered article last year exploring the town’s polluted water system.
“Attorney McCoy will have the full resources of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office at his disposal to do a full and thorough and, most importantly, an independent investigation into this matter,” Kent said without describing the specific goals or costs of the investigation.
McCoy’s report will be made public, and a press conference will follow to address his findings, Kent said.
Kent said Dennis believes in transparency and that all individuals, whether they are the victim or the accused, deserve a “thorough and thoughtful investigation” and that Dennis is not exempt from this policy.
Gardner spoke next. He said that the agency will continue to serve Sumter County with the “utmost professionalism” as “one of the top-notch agencies in the state of South Carolina.”
They did not take questions from media in attendance.
As written in an Uncovered article by Post and Courier reporter Tony Bartelme that was published earlier this week in tandem with The Sumter Item and The Post and Courier’s partner newspapers, Melissa Addison joined the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office in 1997 as an evidence technician under Sheriff Thomas Mims. In the fall of that same year, Addison alleged, she was raped by Dennis in his home. Years later in 2004, she alleged, she was groped by Dennis in his office.
Addison went on to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February 2005 of Dennis’ alleged sexual advances but quickly withdrew the complaint in fear of what Dennis would do to her “professionally and personally,” she told The Post and Courier.
Addison made lieutenant in 2015 but filed a second discrimination complaint in 2016 alleging she was unfairly demoted because she is a Black woman. While on Christmas vacation in 2016, Addison received a letter from Dennis that stated she had been terminated by the department with no further explanation, Bartelme wrote. When Addison sued the department and in early 2019, a jury decided in favor of the sheriff.
In December 2019, Addison wrote to SLED Chief Mark Keel that through counseling, she realized she needed to report her allegations. A SLED spokesman told The Post and Courier in October that the agency never opened a case and couldn’t locate any documents. Bartelme wrote that Addison supplied SLED with pages of statements and a witness list complete with phone numbers and addresses. She also kept record of more than 80 emails, texts and other communications between her and SLED. None of the witnesses she supplied were contacted by SLED, according to Bartelme.
Addison met with two SLED agents in their Florence office on Aug. 21, 2020, but no recordings or written summaries of the interview were supplied to The Post and Courier. Addison provided recordings of her own to The Post and Courier, including her initial meeting with SLED Capt. Johnnie Abraham and another female agent.
Bartelme wrote Addison broke down numerous time in her interview and that Abraham raised his voice when he said he had little to work with concerning her case. The second agent told her they needed more evidence and to give her a call if she can think of anyone to corroborate her story. Later on, Bartelme wrote that in a phone conversation between Addison and Abraham, the captain said he received all of her documents and would recheck them.
Dennis told Bartelme that Abraham called him two years ago about “some type of allegations.” He told Abraham that Addison just lost a civil lawsuit at trial that he assumed she was upset about. Dennis said no one from SLED followed up. Abraham died in December 2020.
The S.C. attorney general’s crime victims' ombudsman wrote a letter to SLED Chief Mark Keel that described the Addison’s allegations as “very serious” and ones that “warrant a full investigation."
When contacted Wednesday by Bartelme, Addison declined to comment about the press conference. McCoy did not make any statements at the press conference, and he could not be reached by The Post and Courier for comment later in the day.
Tony Bartelme of The Post and Courier contributed to this report.
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