Ronald Hewett lived, died a local legend

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Submitted: Sun, 07/13/2014 - 1:25am
Updated: Fri, 12/12/2014 - 9:02pm

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Ronald Hewett was not just a sheriff in Brunswick County. He was an icon.

Born and raised in Brunswick County, the West Brunswick High School graduate did not take long to rise to prominence. After working as a Brunswick County deputy starting in 1983, he became the state’s youngest sheriff at age 31 in 1994.

Hewett was a charismatic leader as sheriff, for better or worse; never shying away from the spotlight, a camera, an interview. It was a management style that at once earned him devoted fans and vocal critics.

In 2004 Hewett was even the subject of a documentary called “Sheriff.” The movie’s tagline was “A complex man trying to do good in a bad world.”

Hewett’s world became more complex in late 2006, when a federal investigation had Hewett and several of his deputies testifying before a grand jury in Raleigh.

In March 2008, then District Attorney Rex Gore sent shockwaves through Brunswick County when, during a hastily called evening news conference, he announced a judge had signed off on a petition to remove Hewett temporarily from office on the grounds of neglect or refusal to perform the duties of his office, willful misconduct or maladministration in office, extortion and intoxication.

Gore handed reporters a binder full of documentation and evidence against Hewett, including affidavits by many of his top lieutenants, as well as audio recordings of phone conversations with Hewett, including some in which the sheriff talks about suicide. The report outlined questions about Hewett’s fitness to lead, including accusations and evidence of him under the influence of drugs and alcohol while on the job, including at crime scenes, and other accusations of corruption.

Within days, a Brunswick County grand jury had indicted Hewett on charges of embezzlement and obstruction of justice.

Two weeks later, Hewett resigned, ending a 14-year run in office. But Hewett’s problems were only just beginning.

In May 2008, that federal grand jury that had been hearing testimony for about a year, indicted Hewett for obstruction of justice. Less than a month later, Hewett pleaded guilty to the charges. That October a judge sentenced Hewett to 16 months in federal prison and called it a tragic day for Brunswick County.

A few days later, Hewett also closed the book on the state case against him. He pleaded guilty to three counts of embezzlement and no contest to a charge of obstruction of justice. His four-month sentence would be served concurrently with his federal stint, which began a month later.

Hewett would wind up serving less than a year behind bars. He was released in October 2009 after racking up credit for good behavior. He then spent about three months in a halfway house before being released for good in January 2010.

His law enforcement career over, Hewett worked for developer Mark Saunders before and after his prison term and then as a salesman for Jones Ford in Shallotte.

Since his release from prison, Hewett declined interview requests. In September 2010, though, he gave his only public comments in an e-mail, in which he referred to himself as the “Retired Sheriff of Brunswick County” and made clear his resentment for Gore, who had been a political ally.

Since then, Hewett largely stayed out of the spotlight he had so loved as sheriff. That all changed Wednesday, when ATF agents served a warrant at Hewett’s home, where they say they found weapons. They charged Hewett with a federal count of possession of a firearm by a felon. Hewett found himself spending the night in the jail he once ran.

At a federal court appearance Thursday morning, prosecutors said they wanted to keep Hewett in custody, and the judge scheduled a detention hearing for next week. Hewett’s attorney said keeping the defendant in such a case locked up was rare. At the very least, though, Hewett would stay in jail until the hearing set for this coming Friday.

Of course, that hearing will never happen. Hewett, 51, was found dead in his cell at the New Hanover County Jail Saturday afternoon.

In death, as in life, his supporters remain devoted, and his critics vocal.

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48 Comments on "Ronald Hewett lived, died a local legend"

2015 years 8 months ago

That whole police force, mostly the white ones are all corrupt, sexiest, racist and as corrupt as the Brunswick community Hospital ER. They’re all friends. They’re group do no wrong. The things I know……:)

2015 years 8 months ago

This is a compelling story of corruption and abuse of power by Law Enforcement in the murder of a young Police Officer on Bald Head Island in Brunswick County , N C. A story every citizen should read to see how money and power can overtake the reality we assume as Protection in this country. When you start this book you will not put it down!

j kkng
2015 years 8 months ago

How many other felons do you think are running around brunswick county with firearms and nobody is arresting them. Ronald was in his house minding his own business. I hope the informat is sleeping good tonight cause karma is around the corner.

2015 years 8 months ago

There are 3 men serving time for the brutal murder of Amy Frink. At least one has been up for parole which was denied. I remember because the community was in an uproar about it. Over 35 deputies and every detective employed with BCSO investigated the death of Davina Buff Jones and were actually physically present on Bald Head Island the day following the midnight discovery of her remains. I’m getting that from the book Out With Three. The crime scene was washed down by the fire department. No one has ever owned up to giving the order. No one has ever been able to find evidence to support the family’s conspiracy cover-up theory. Read the book. Please don’t spin conspiracy theories. We all saw a conspiracy played out when Ron Hewett went up against the evidence collected against him by his so-called friends. If there are any of you whose life and every word spoken in confidence to “friends” could stand up under the scrutiny of the SBI and federal prosecutor, I think you’d better run for office. His friends and those who worked with him daily in the BCSO collected enough stupid bull for enough years to do him in. He wasn’t perfect. But he had a million dollar personality and has never been implicated in anything worse than allowing his employees to collect money for his golf tournament, work in the yard of his new home and paint campaign signs on county time. Oh, and horror of horrors, he allowed his son to take a writing pad and a pen from the sheriff’s office. He sent a deputy to pick up a shirt his son needed for the BCSO dive team. That’s some serious crap.

2015 years 8 months ago

Charles, You are absolutely correct. I’m shocked and dismayed at the outcome. Be that as it may, hopefully we will see some change for the better.