Sheriff Douglas Pernell Dies At Age 61

By Betsy Finklea
Just as the rain, thunder, and lightning started to spread through Dillon County early Monday evening so did the news that Dillon County’s Sheriff Douglas Bryan Pernell had died at his home at the age of 61.
Pernell was not only Dillon County’s first African-American Sheriff, he was also the first African-American to win a countywide office, an honor that humbled him and that he did not take lightly; however, he often said that he didn’t want to be the “black Sheriff,” he wanted to be “everybody’s” sheriff, regardless of race. He worked tirelessly to serve all people and to provide good law enforcement service to the county.
Law enforcement vehicles and vehicles of family and friends lined the streets around his home as people came to offer comfort to his wife and family. Most people were in disbelief over the news. Just Saturday night, Pernell, the Dillon County Sheriff’s Office and various other law enforcement agencies conducted a highly successful special operation in high crime areas throughout the county. On Monday night, Pernell was gone. It seemed almost unbelievable.
Pernell, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Preston Pernell, was a lifelong resident of Dillon County having been born, reared, and educated here.
Pernell had a passion for law enforcement. Even as a child, he and his friend, James “Hoghead” Campbell, played Earlia Ray and Deboy, emulating two local law enforcement legends, Earlia Ray Vanderhall and Andrew “Deboy” Graves. Pernell said he always wanted to be Deboy, and Campbell played Earlia Ray. He couldn’t have known then that his destiny was to one day be Sheriff.
Pernell officially began his law enforcement career in 1984 as a policeman with the Lake View Police Department. In 1985, he attended the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. He later joined the Dillon County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy sheriff, serving under Sheriff Greg Rogers and Sheriff Harold Grice.
Pernell was selected as the first South Carolina Deputy of the Year for his work in breaking up a Jamaican Drug Ring. In 1989, Dillon County was infiltrated by a Jamaican Drug Ring, who tried to bribe officers with money and cocaine for “protection” until Pernell stepped in and ran a sting operation that led to the arrest and prosecution of the ring members. During the five-month investigation, The Herald is told that his performance was so convincing that even close friends questioned what was going on not knowing that he was actually conducting a sting operation. Fellow law enforcement officers, Sheriff Harold Grice, and even SLED agents had words of high praise for Pernell’s work calling it some of the finest police work they have ever seen.
During his career he worked with federal and state law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshals Service, ATF, and SLED in various undercover capacities. All have had high praise for his work as a law enforcement officer, and he received several commendations for his excellence.
Pernell went on to hold the positions of Lieutenant and Captain. From 2001 until 2009, he served as Chief Deputy.
After an unsuccessful run for Sheriff as a petition candidate, Pernell served as the Dillon County Animal Control Officer until he won the office of Sheriff. He bloomed where he was planted and worked in that role to help the lost and neglected animals in Dillon County as best he could. He was appreciative of the role to continue to serve the public.
Douglas Pernell was a story of perseverance. He first ran for Sheriff as a petition candidate after Sheriff Harold Grice’s unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination. Over the course of twelve years, Pernell continued to run and was successful in 2020. The night he won was an historic one as crowds gathered outside the Dillon County Voter Registration Office, formerly the Dillon County Sheriff’s Office where he worked for so many years, to cheer him on. He never gave up on his dream of being Sheriff. He was sworn in on January 3, 2021 by Judge James E. Lockemy in the historic Dillon County Courthouse’s courtroom with his grandson, D.J. and his wife, Cynthia, by his side
As Sheriff, Pernell accomplished a great deal in a short time. The change was immediately noticed in the Sheriff’s Office itself with busy halls and everyone working towards a common goal. The Sheriff’s Office had a new life and a new determination under his leadership and have no doubt, Douglas Pernell was a friend to all, but Douglas Pernell was the Sheriff when he was in that office. It was obvious that he was in the right place and the right position.
His office was unique in the fact that not only was he the Sheriff, he also had former Dillon County Sheriff Harold Grice and former Marlboro County Sheriff Fred Knight working with him. He also had two former Chiefs of Police, Derrick Cartwright and Crystal Moore, and a former Marion County Chief Deputy Allan Rogers. He assembled a team to succeed.
During his time as Sheriff, Pernell worked hard to get the pay increased for the law enforcement officers, to get additional manpower to increase the number of officers per shift, and to increase the morale of the department. He added two more detectives. He re-established the Dillon County Violent Crime Task Force, implemented the “Are You Okay?” program for senior citizens, and implemented a program to let law enforcement officers know when an autistic person is driving a vehicle. He put in a shooting range and physical fitness course behind the Sheriff’s Office to help officers get better prepared and trained onsite. He re-established relationships with state and federal agencies and began better communication with the Solicitor’s Offices and judges.
Pernell obtained K-9’s for the department and with the help of grants, obtained much-needed equipment. He worked to get a school resource officer in every school. Pernell got an updated camera system at the detention center and changed the way meals were being provided to prisoners from cooking it at the detention center to a meal service for cost savings and more efficiency. Pernell was in the process of introducing boys and girls youth programs into the schools this school year. These were only a few of the things that he had in the works with much more to come.
His progress was showing as the number of murders in the unincorporated areas were down from the previous years and the previous administration.
At the end of the day, Douglas Pernell wanted to help people, and he did. He was always willing to lend an ear, offer good sound advice, and help those of all walks of life. He was a master politician and very sought after for his political advice. He was a kind and helpful person. He was active in his church, Manning Baptist Church, where Rev. Rodney McCorkle is pastor. He was someone you could depend on to be there when times were good and when times were tough.
He was loved by many and will be greatly missed. He was always a friend to The Dillon Herald and believed in local news.
He is survived by his wife, Cynthia; sons, Douglas B. Pernell, Jr., and Kobe Pernell; grandson, Douglas B. Pernell, III; and many other relatives.
Douglas Pernell loved being your Sheriff and loved serving the people and was looking forward to seeking another term and continue his good work.
In an article from 1989, written by R.E. “Bob” Robinson, Jr., about the Jamaican Drug Ring, it said that law enforcement officials said they couldn’t say enough about Douglas Pernell and his work and that Dillon County was lucky to have him. We were lucky to have him even though he is gone much too soon.
Speaking briefly with his wife, Cynthia, on Monday, she sobbing said, “Betsy, he was trying.” To her I say, No, Cynthia, he was succeeding.
Editor’s Note: There were no arrangements made at press time, but we will post those and any other updates on our website and Facebook® page, Pernell’s body was being transported for autopsy to Charleston on Tuesday morning escorted by two uniformed officers and two detectives, according to Chief Deputy Jamie Hamilton.

NOTE: We have a limited number of paper copies left of this newspaper at our office located at 505 Highway 301 North, Dillon, that are available for sale.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email