Former Walhalla police chief appears in court
By Eric Sprott
CAMDEN — Facing three indictments from a state grand jury alleging misconduct in office involving prescription drugs and a gun, former Walhalla Police Chief Ronald Wilbanks made his first appearance in court Friday morning in Camden.
Appearing before Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newton at the Kershaw County Courthouse, the embattled former chief was granted a $25,000 personal recognizance bond, but not before some uncomfortable banter between the two.
Wilbanks appeared by himself Friday morning, saying his attorney, Larry Brandt of Walhalla, could not be in attendance due to being in a deposition.
After senior assistant attorney general Brian Petrano, who is helping prosecute the case on behalf of the state, said it was his understanding that a personal recognizance would be “acceptable and standard,” Wilbanks told Newton that was his understanding as well.
That led to a brief exchange that featured moments of uncomfortable silence in the courtroom.
“Your understanding?” Newton asked before pausing. “It’s your understanding that you’ll have a PR bond, so you don’t need a judge?”
“Yes, sir, I do,” Wilbanks responded a few seconds later.
“What do you need me for?” Newton continued. “Why do you need a judge? Your understanding is it’ll be a PR bond.”
“Sir, I’m only repeating what I was told,” Wilbanks said.
Newton went on to say he had no in-depth understanding of the case, as his only knowledge came from brief opening comments from Petrano and a special agent from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, who reiterated the facts presented by Petrano.
Wilbanks abruptly resigned his post on April 17 after 12 years with the Walhalla Police Department — including the last six years as chief. The resignation came on the same day SLED investigators met with Wilbanks in Walhalla.
The indictments against Wilbanks were officially announced April 20 by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson.
Two of the indictments were for seeking prescription narcotics and opiates from his subordinates and a “citizen” over periods stretching from January 2008 through December 2017.
The third indictment alleges Wilbanks gave a Walhalla Police Department weapon to someone in a “private deal” in 2014.
Wilbanks, who told Newton on Friday he still lives in Oconee County and is working at a Chevrolet dealership, served on the force in Walhalla from 1993-95, then rejoined in 2006, rising to chief in November 2012. Between stints with the Walhalla PD, Wilbanks served as a deputy with the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office from 1995-2002.
Among the conditions of his bond, Wilbanks will be required to wear a GPS monitoring device, have no contact with witnesses in the case and adhere to house arrest between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Asked by Newton if he had any issues with the conditions, Wilbanks initially expressed opposition to monitoring and house arrest before quickly reversing course and agreeing to the terms.
Robert Kittle, a spokesman for Wilson, wrote in an email response to The Journal Friday that GPS monitoring, house arrest and no contact with witnesses are “not unusual” in state grand jury cases.
A timeframe for the case moving forward is unknown, though Kittle said last month the case will “ultimately” be disposed of in Oconee County.
All three charges are misdemeanors that carry a penalty of up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.
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