Ironically, county commissioners first prompted the investigation into Sheriff Space, after complaints about his behavior from the community. They had no idea that investigation would lead to the arrest of their sheriff.
One year ago, Effingham County chairman Phillip King started hearing rumors that something was not right with the county's sheriff. "The rumors we had gotten, phone calls we had concerning erratic behavior of the sheriff at different functions," recalls King.
One example came last April, when a Port Wentworth officer pulled Space over after clocking him driving 78 in a 45 mile per hour zone. After being pulled over, the sheriff got out of his car and into an argument with the officer.
Time and again, commissioners kept hearing reports of this kind of behavior. So they started an investigation.
Soon after, Space came forward, telling everyone he had multiple sclerosis. And commissioners dealt with his behavior. "What else could we do?" asks King. "The man had an illness."
King says the county tried numerous times to work something out with Space, like getting him a personal driver or letting him work from home. They say they even offered him an early retirement package. Each time, they were turned down. "He's the sheriff and he's gonna run things his way and the county cannot tell him what to do and he's right," says King. "We can't."
Last month, Sheriff Space was suspended. This week it all came to a head when the DA's office filed a 17-page petition, alleging among other things that Space had illegally obtained certain drugs. "We never knew of the drug problem involved," says King.
The petition alleges that Space purchased and attempted to posses prescription drugs that weren't prescribed to him, drugs like Valium and Paxil. The evidence led to criminal charges against Space, who was arrested yesterday.
Now King says, despite the sad situation, there's nothing the county can do to help him. "I can't in good conscience do that. I want to help him, but there's a fine line there. Do you take tax payers' money to help someone that's broken the law?"