The death of former Brunswick County Sheriff Ron Hewett inside the New Hanover County Jail this weekend is about to become an issue in the race for Sheriff in New Hanover County.
Republican candidate Jason Vaughn held a press conference Tuesday to comment on the situation. Hewett died Saturday afternoon after what Sheriff Ed McMahon called an altercation at the jail. Sources indicate that a Taser was used on Hewett prior to his death.
McMahon and Vaughn are both candidates for the office of New Hanover County Sheriff, which will be decided this November.
Vaughn said he would have handled Hewett's death much differently than McMahon.
"I would have been the first responder," Vaughn commented.
He also criticized Sheriff McMahon for not isolating a high profile prisoner like former Sheriff Hewett, although the sheriff's office did have Hewett isolated.
"One death is too many to have inside of a county jail, because not only is it tragic for the family and the individual who has passed away, but for the officers involved," Vaughn said.
Vaughn said the sheriff's leadership skills are concerning, and the sheriff needs to work to reduce the number of inmate deaths; however, during McMahon's term, only three inmates have died while in custody. One of those was caused by suicide. The others were due to natural causes.
Vaughn also said that the sheriff isn't providing all the details he could about the events leading up to Hewett's death.
"This is not the first event of death in a New Hanover County jail. In the past 10 years, we've had numerous deaths occur in our jail," Vaughn said. "And we want to make sure that our sheriff gives full disclosure during the investigation to ensure that the public maintains its trust."
Vaughn goes back 10 years in his analysis, although McMahon only became sheriff five years ago.
Vaughn also pointed out that more experienced deputies need to be in the jails and that the Sheriff's office needs an attorney on staff.
Sheriff Ed McMahon released the following statement in response to Vaughn's criticism:
A good man has lost his life and family members are hurting. Tragedy should never be used as an opportunity for political gain and I will not be a part of that. May God wrap His arms around the family and friends of Sheriff Hewitt and give them comfort during this time.
The SBI and the sheriff's office are investigating Hewett's death.
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