Information was released July 22 by New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon from the internal affairs investigation conducted by his department following the July 12 death of former Brunswick County Sherriff Ron Hewett in the county’s detention facility.
In his press release, McMahon stated, “After reviewing an exhaustive report of this investigation, numerous documents, audio and video recordings, witness interviews, and other pieces of evidence submitted with it, I am confident that the personnel involved acted in accordance with our policies and procedures.”
The information released does not represent the full report of what happened, only limited information from the department’s investigation into whether policies and procedures were followed by deputies in the jail.
“This matter is still being investigated separately by the State Bureau of Investigation,” McMahon stated. “After completing its report, the SBI will forward it to the New Hanover County District Attorney’s Office for review. It is my hope and intention that, once the SBI report is finished and has been reviewed by the district attorney, that I can release all the information including video contained in our internal investigation, consistent with what North Carolina law allows and with respect for the wishes of Mr. Hewett’s family. I have submitted a request to the county manager pursuant to NCGS 153a-98 for this purpose.”
During a July 15 phone interview, McMahon said the incident began as Hewett was being removed from his cell for a visit with his mother and girlfriend.
“As he came out of his cell for the visit, [officers]had an altercation with him,” McMahon said. The time has been loosely placed at just after 2 p.m. Published emergency services records show EMS and fire rescue units were dispatched to the jail just before 3 p.m. One report states an EMS unit received information about a patient in cardiac or respiratory arrest/death.
Sheriff McMahon said the former Brunswick sheriff was held in administrative segregation in a cell by himself. He was a high-profile inmate and a federal prisoner. He was being watched closely to make sure no inmates would harm him and also, presumably, he not harm himself.
Hewett had been arrested July 9, following execution of a search warrant on his Brunswick County home by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) for multiple federal firearms violations. As a convicted felon, Hewett was prohibited from possessing firearms that had been transported across state lines.
He was convicted and had served 16 months for one count of obstruction of justice, to which he pled guilty in 2008. He concurrently served four months on a state conviction for embezzlement and obstruction of justice. The 17-year sheriff was temporarily removed from office in March 2008 on accusations ranging from corruption to intoxication, and/or under the influence of drugs while on the job, which includes crime scenes. Days later, he had been indicted on charges of embezzlement and obstruction of justice for trying to influence, obstruct and impede a federal grand jury investigation into allegations against him from within his own office.
When McMahon said he received the word about what happened, he immediately consulted with the district attorney’s office. McMahon and the DA jointly requested the State Bureau come in and conduct a death investigation.
The State Bureau of Investigation immediately began its investigation.
An autopsy was performed Monday, July 14.
Unofficial reports suggest a Taser was used to subdue Hewett.
The sheriff said Tasers are considered less than lethal, meaning they are not supposed to be lethal. No deadly force weapons are used inside the jail, McMahon said.
Multiple videos of what happened have been turned over to the SBI.
No officers had been suspended or placed on administrative leave. Internally, when it is believed a gross violation might have occurred, that officer is either suspended or put on administrative leave until the internal investigation has been completed. Taunting of an inmate would be considered a violation and grounds for immediate leave.
Former Sheriff Ron Hewett appeared in television footage and newsprint photos at crime scenes, which earned him the nickname “Hollywood Hewett.” A PBS documentary was produced about Hewett in 2006, entitled “Sheriff.”
Pat Bradford contributed to this story.