State Rep. Chris Corley was arrested Tuesday on charges of punching his wife in the face and pointing a 9mm pistol at her when she accused him of cheating, according to Aiken County sheriff’s records.
Corley, R-Aiken, was charged with first-degree criminal domestic violence, which is a felony, and pointing and presenting a firearm at his wife of 12 years in the presence of two of their children, ages 2 and 8, the incident report states.
The 36-year-old legislator faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the domestic violence charge, which is the second most serious charge related to domestic violence. The most egregious charge is domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature.
The little-known legislator thrust himself into the national spotlight in 2015 when he said on the South Carolina House floor that removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds was tantamount to the state’s Republican Party surrendering to political correctness in the wake of the Charleston church shootings.
A judge in Aiken released Corley on a total of $20,000 in surety bonds, banned him from going near his wife or holding a firearm, and told the lawmaker he could travel only to and from his job in Augusta, Ga.
Corley, wearing a white long-sleeve Southern Tide T-shirt, blue athletic shorts, tennis shoes, handcuffs and shackles, said little during his bond hearing. His attorney, who declined to give reporters his name, is thought to be a relative of Corley’s.
Fight erupts at Corley home
Corley’s wife told deputies that Monday night her husband threatened to kill her in their Graniteville, S.C., home and the only thing that stopped him was the screams of the children, according to the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office report.
Corley’s wife – who is not being named by The State newspaper – said the legislator had grabbed a Smith & Wesson handgun from a vehicle outside their home and pointed it at her, according to the report. That happened after his punch drew blood, she said.
The lawmaker then went into a bedroom, after saying he “was going to kill himself,” his wife, 37, told deputies. As Corley headed for the bedroom, his wife and the children ran to her mother’s house across the street, the report states. The report does not mention a third child, who is listed in the current S.C. Legislative Manual.
Corley told a deputy who arrived at the couple’s house that he and his wife got into an argument because she thought he was cheating on her. He said his wife tried to punch him in the face, but he pushed her off. She scratched his forehead, according to the report.
The arrest warrant does not say if the Smith & Wesson SD9VE 9mm used in the incident belongs to Corley. Investigators think Corley owns the gun. It is unclear if he has a concealed-weapons permit, said Capt. Eric Abdullah, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff’s deputies arrived about 9:50 p.m. Monday. They arrested Corley about 1:15 a.m. Tuesday, according to the report. Abdullah said Tuesday that Corley is cooperating with law enforcement.
Corley’s next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 10, Aiken County Magistrate Melanie DuBose told the lawmaker.
Suspension from House a possibility
Because of the seriousness of the charges, Corley could face suspension from the House. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, is monitoring the situation, said his spokeswoman, Caroline Delleney.
“If and when an indictment is issued, the speaker will take the necessary action to comply with the law and maintain the dignity of the House of Representatives,” Delleney said.
Corley is charged in warrants, not an indictment issued by a grand jury.
Corley was elected in 2014.
In 2015, he voted in favor of a law that stiffened the state’s domestic violence laws, after then-Sen. Larry Martin introduced and championed legislation aimed at protecting domestic violence victims from abusive partners. Martin, R-Pickens, offered the bill after South Carolina ranked among the Top 10 most deadly states for violence against women each year for nearly 20 years. It ranked No. 1 as recently as 2013.
The bill was signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley after months of fights in the Legislature, including accusations against Martin that the legislation was a “gun grab.”
The law created three new tiers of domestic violence, while keeping the high and aggravated charge that existed before the changes. Under the new law, most offenders who are convicted are barred from possessing firearms for 10 years, but judges have discretion on lesser domestic violence convictions.
Corley, a rookie lawmaker during that vote, soon made headlines for his suggestion the Confederate flag be replaced with a white flag of surrender when Haley called a special session to push for the flag’s removal in the wake of the Emanuel Nine shootings.
In December 2015, Corley sent a Christmas card featuring a photo of the Confederate flag at the State House to some of his fellow representatives, advising they ask for forgiveness for their betrayal. At the time, he said the card was meant for lawmakers who chose political correctness over the views of their constituents rather than wait until the next legislative session.
“May your Christmas be filled with memories of a happier time when South Carolina’s leaders possessed morals, convictions and the principles to stand for what is right,” the card read.
It finished with: “May you have a blessed Christmas, and may you take this joyous time as an opportunity to ask for forgiveness of all your sins such as betrayal.”
Staff writer Teddy Kulmala contributed to this story.