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A candidate whose eligibility to serve as Cherokee County coroner was being challenged has dropped out of the race.

A hearing before the Cherokee County Board of Elections had been set May 11 for a challenge to the candidacy of Don Ware Jr. for coroner.

Elections office Director Kim Stancil said Wednesday morning that Ware notified elections officials late Tuesday afternoon that he was withdrawing from the race. That negates the need for the hearing and a notice of Ware’s withdrawal will be placed at all polling places during the June 9 primary election, she said.

The challenge was filed in March by local residents Bill Parrish and Tim Adderholdt and stemmed from a 1997 incident of physical abuse of a restrained inmate at the Cherokee County jail that got then-deputy sheriff Ware fired. His federal guilty plea in 1999 to depriving that inmate of his rights made Ware ineligible to run for Cherokee County coroner in 2020, the challenge alleged.

The challenge cited, among other things, a condition in Ware’s plea agreement that he can no longer work in law enforcement as making him ineligible to be coroner. Coroners are responsible for determining cause and manner of death, including working with law enforcement in homicide cases.

In a response to the challenge, Ware’s lawyer Bryan Tyson said the office of coroner is not a law enforcement agency and that only the federal government, not individuals, have legal standing to enforce terms of the guilty plea.

The challenge also cited state law that prohibits people guilty of a crime of “moral turpitude” from serving as coroner. Tyson said the actions Ware pleaded guilty to did not include “any elements of moral turpitude.”

The incident that started the federal prosecution was a sheriff’s department internal investigation that found Ware abused a handcuffed inmate, including using his feet to bounce on the man’s torso and neck. The investigation also concluded Ware sprayed pepper spray under the door of the man’s cell. Ware was fired for the incident and the victim received a $600,000 settlement. In the federal criminal case, Ware pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to the misdemeanor, received probation, a $1,000 fine and community service.

Ware said in an interview about the challenge last month that no one should be “intimidated” into not seeking the opportunity to serve in office based on past actions for which they have admitted responsibility and suffered the consequences of those actions.

Longtime Coroner Earl Darby announced before qualifying that he would not seek another term. Ware’s withdrawal leaves two candidates in the race, Deputy Coroner Sally Sims, and restoration company owner and minister Eddie Parker.

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Managing Editor

Gary Tanner is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune, Cherokee Ledger-News and Cherokee Life magazine. He has been working as a journalist since 1985.

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