Leaked emails reveal hostile leadership transition in Charleston County Sheriff’s Office

CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – New emails have surfaced revealing a hostility between Charleston County’s current assistant sheriff Mitch Lucas and sheriff-elect Kristen Graziano.

Graziano won the race for Charleston County Sheriff during the November 3rd general election, ousting long-time Sheriff Al Cannon – the first time he’s had a challenger in more than 20 years.

She has been outspoken regarding plans for leadership at the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office- including cutting spending- throughout her campaign, and promised changes if elected.

Fearing those possible changes, recent emails revealed the transition in leadership has been anything but smooth.

Lucas takes aim:

A recent email from Lucas was addressed to Graziano and included Sheriff Al Cannon as well as the department’s employee distribution list. It in, Lucas went after what he believes are Graziano’s plans for the agency.

Assistant-Sheriff Mitch Lucas’s email

Lucas referenced rumored changes to the department, including Graziano wanting to “disband all specialized areas like Marine Patrol and the Aviation Unit,” and said staff members are concerned about their jobs.

“The jail staff is hearing that you intend to give County Council the jail and to halt construction of the new juvenile detention (which we have been trying to get built for over 20 years). You need to know that County Council will have to agree to take the jail before that can happen,” Lucas said in the email.

“When people ask me about these rumors and gossip, I always respond the same: ‘She is just a Master Deputy Sheriff.  She has no idea how to be a sheriff yet.’  Having said that, the members of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office deserves to have a sheriff who at least tries to be a good sheriff.  The jury will be out for a while on whether you ever actually become a good sheriff,” the email stated.

Lucas’s email admitted that none of Graziano’s plans “had anything to do” with him, and said he planned to retire in December of 2021, but Graziano’s “election just moved [his] schedule up.”

Unexpected backfire:

Lucas sent the email to all Sheriff’s Department email users, despite claiming that he only meant to send it to Sergeants and above.

Several agency members responded, criticizing Lucas for the “condescending” and “disrespectful” attitude portrayed in his email.

Graziano also replied openly, saying “if we are going to be totally transparent here Mitch, your inability to comprehend the damage YOU have caused is nothing short of self-centered and irresponsible.”

Sheriff-Elect Kristin Graziano’s response

She also called Lucas out for his “condescending and truthless tirade of invoking fear in members of the agency,” which she said was not only baseless but lacked any substance.

“The fact that you just insulted most of the agency with your demeaning and condescending comments, particularly directed at some of the most dedicated public servants I know, speaks volumes. You are so out of touch with folks, that you believe your own rhetoric. My communication with staff does not concern you nor will it involve you,” her email stated.

Graziano also released a statement which said she was shocked to see Lucas sent out the email in the first place. “I believe his email speaks for himself and his legacy at the sheriff’s office.  But I do not allow myself or our dedicated professionals to be bullied.”

You can read her full statement below:

“Change doesn’t come easily for some, and this sheriff’s office has never seen a change in leadership until now. The allegations Lucas made in his email are baseless and are not rooted in reality. In the past two weeks since the election, I have been in communication with the rank and file of the sheriff’s office and jail staff. I reached out first via email, and I am continuing to meet with them in small groups to talk with them about their experiences and how they see growing up in the ranks of the department. We’ve got good people here, and I want them to find success.

I have named three people on my transition team who are currently employed at the sheriff’s office. I know and respect them for their work and their integrity. The rank and file know to seek them out for any questions about the transition. I have also just begun to form a community advisory committee to oversee the transition. I believe it’s important to have their input and for me to be held accountable, because I intend to be a servant to all residents of Charleston County. They deserve a seat at the table.

In the meantime, I’ve been meeting with Sheriff Cannon, county administrators, touring the detention center, meeting and communicating with other county sheriffs, and lawyers who are setting me up for success come January when I am sworn in.

I am attempting to throw as much sunshine as possible on the sheriff’s office. We need to throw back the curtains, look under the hood, and see what’s truly been going on. That might make some people uncomfortable. Some may not want to have that kind of accountability or change in direction. That’s OK. But those who want to stay and be a part of something different, they are more than welcome at a sheriff’s office run by myself.”

Sheriff Cannon reacts:

During a press conference Friday, outgoing Sheriff Al Cannon denounced insubordination within his ranks — but he wasn’t talking about Lucas.

He said that he felt those responding in opposition to Lucas were being insubordinate, as Lucas is still the assistant sheriff.

Cannon also said that for Graziano to think that she can “ease in” to the role of Sheriff is “an insult to everything that [he has] worked hard to establish.”

While he acknowledged her experience and competency in her current and former roles, he said that the responsibilities of the Sheriff’s Office are immense.

He later released a statement thanking the people of Charleston County and the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, and wishing Graziano well in her endeavors:

“To the new sheriff-elect, Kristin Graziano, I wish you as much joy and purpose as I have had as the leader of the most remarkable agency.

However, Cannon did not excuse his assistant sheriff’s acations.

On Friday evening, he sent a letter to members of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office encouraging them to give Graziano a chance, and noting the impropriety of Lucas’s original email.