RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Former Brunswick County sheriff and convicted felon Ronald Hewett died Saturday as he was being held in jail pending a court hearing next week on a new firearms charge.
Hewett died at the New Hanover County Detention Center, where he was being held under a contract for the U.S. Marshals Service.
North Carolina's State Bureau of Investigation is looking into what happened, deputy U.S. Marshal Bryan Konig said. Neither he nor the sheriff's office, which runs the jails, would provide details about Hewett's death.
Hewett was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon after federal agents said they found multiple guns at his home in Supply on Wednesday. He was scheduled for a hearing in federal court in Wilmington on Friday. The former sheriff faced a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if he was convicted.
Hewett, who was in his 50s, had multiple health problems, said William Peregoy, his defense attorney.
"He quite frankly didn't need to be in jail," said Peregoy, who said he watched as an ambulance for Hewett left the jail. He said he didn't know the cause of death.
Hewett pleaded guilty in 2008 to one count of obstruction of justice and was sentenced to 16 months in prison. Prosecutors said Hewett harassed deputies who were called to testify before a grand jury as federal authorities were looking into how he was running his department.
His defense attorney told a federal judge at his sentencing that Hewett, who was first elected in 1994 at the age of 31, began abusing drugs and alcohol as he struggled to manage a department policing rapidly growing communities outside Wilmington.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Duffy told the judge Hewett sexually harassed female employees, used racist comments toward other employees and treated his law-enforcement agency "as his personal kingdom."
Hewett also pleaded guilty in state court to three counts of embezzlement and no contest to an obstruction of justice charge.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio .