Another brewing scandal in the wild, mudslinging Mississippi Senate Republican primary is roiling both campaigns as they begin to prepare for a June 24 runoff election.
The Hinds County Sheriff’s Department on Thursday concluded an investigation into why three people, including a high-ranking official on the campaign of state Sen. Chris McDaniel, were found locked in the county’s courthouse late into election night earlier this week.
Hinds County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Othor Cain said Janis Lane, Scott Brewster, and Rob Chambers entered the courthouse after it had closed for the night, through a side door marked for employees that was either propped open or malfunctioning.
Brewster serves as McDaniel’s campaign coalition coordinator in his race against incumbent GOP Sen. Thad Cochran, and the other two are more loosely affiliated with the campaign.
Cain told Business Insider the courthouse — where primary ballots are counted — was open later than usual Tuesday night because of the election. But officers locked the building around 11:30 p.m., he said. The three allegedly gained access to the building after 2 a.m. and called a state Republican Party official to let them out.
Cain said there was no reason to believe the three engaged in any criminal activity, and no charges will be filed. But he said the three people have offered “conflicting stories” about the incident.
Cain’s comments call into question the McDaniel campaign’s official explanation as to why the three people were at the courthouse. The campaign issued a statement Wednesday explaining the three entered the courthouse through an open door after being directed there by “uniformed personnel.” However, Cain said no uniformed personnel or any employee of the department helped the three gain access.
“Based on our findings the door in question closed behind them upon entry and they proceeded to look for individuals that were counting ballots in an effort to assist,” Cain said. “After not finding anyone in the building they called for assistance to get out.”
Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell said the latest controversy was part of a “pattern of out-of-control behaviour” by the McDaniel campaign that includes a scandal where four people were arrested in conjunction with an alleged scheme to break into a nursing home to obtain a photograph of Cochran’s wife. The picture was subsequently used on a blog as part of a story suggesting Cochran had an affair with a staffer.
“Brewster’s name came up in the photo scandal, as he initially said he had knowledge of the video posted to activist Clayton Kelly’s blog while McDaniel disavowed any knowledge of it,” Russell told Business Insider, adding, “I don’t know what they were doing there but I cannot think of a single logical reason for a campaign staffer to break into a courthouse after hours for anything other than something highly suspicious, if not illegal.”
The McDaniel campaign placed some of the blame for the burgeoning controversy on Hinds County Republican Executive Chairman Pete Perry, who let the three out of the courthouse. In his statement, McDaniel campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch referred to Perry as a “close Cochran ally.”
The new controversy comes after the primary entered into a runoff phase due to the fact neither candidate passed the 50% threshold for an outright victory in Tuesday’s election. The final weeks of the primary were marked by the campaigns’ sparring over another scandal in which four officials were arrested as part of a conspiracy to photograph Cochran’s unsuspecting wife, and the final months of the campaign have taken a largely personal tone. Though the criminal investigation has concluded, Russell said the presence of the trio in the courthouse where the votes were being counted was quite incriminating.
“It makes them look very very guilty of something potentially very serious,” Russell said. “The staffer involved, Scott Brewster, also was involved with the nursing home break in scandal. At some point Chris McDaniel has to be held accountable for the actions of his staff and top campaign activists. Who you surround yourself with matters. It is long past time for Chris McDaniel to address all of these questions directly.”
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.