CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – A chief deputy with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office has been terminated after more than two years on the job.
The sheriff’s office confirmed to News 2 they terminated deputy Joyce Smith, effective April 1st.
Documents revealed Sheriff Graziano terminated Smith because she was in default on paying her student loans, which is required when working for a government agency.
“Your willful default on student loans has rendered it unlawful for my office to continue to employ you,” said Sheriff Graziano in her termination letter. The sheriff went on to say there were also “truthfulness infractions” that required her separation.
Smith was hired to work for the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office as one of two chief deputies shortly after Sheriff Graziano began her term in December 2020.
Prior to being hired, the sheriff’s office said it discovered that Smith had defaulted on her payment obligations through several “guaranteed federally insured student loans.”
“South Carolina law prohibits my office (among others) from employing individuals who are willfully in default on certain student loans,” Graziano wrote.
“At the time I first became aware of your default in 2020, I discussed the situation with you, and you made representations that you misunderstood the CARES Act Federal Student loan protections to be an automatic, penalty-free deferral. You also assured me that you were taking steps that included entering a Rehabilitation Agreement with the load providers to bring your accounts current.”
During a check of her credit report in January 2022, Graziano said HR discovered she was in default and had entered a collection status.
The sheriff said she met with Smith shortly after and presented an opportunity for Smith to become compliant. After two months, she said Smith was still not compliant and felt she had to uphold the state law.
Smith previously worked at the North Charleston Police Department for 25 years, where she served as major.
News 2 has learned Smith hired legal counsel and filed an EEOC complaint against the sheriff’s Office.
Smith’s termination has caused concern among some community members.
Kevin Hollinshead, a community activist and former Deputy, claims Smith was fired while she was on medical leave. He said he also believes Smith was not treated fairly at the Sheriff’s Office.
“The Sheriff got overtaken by a culture. Then she brought in her personal friends and they began to team up and pick on Joyce because Joyce came from, what we call in the police culture, a city police department to a county agency. Different type of mentalities,” said Hollinshead.
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office would not provide any further comment on the matter.