Book reflects on Wicomico Sheriff Lewis' unique community commitment

By Susan Canfora
Posted 1/27/22

Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis will never forget Christmas morning 2009, when the body of 11-year-old Sarah Foxwell was found.

The child was reported missing from the bedroom she shared with …

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Book reflects on Wicomico Sheriff Lewis' unique community commitment

Mike Lewis has been Wicomico County's Sheriff since December 2006.
Mike Lewis has been Wicomico County's Sheriff since December 2006.
Salisbury Independent File Photo

Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis will never forget Christmas morning 2009, when the body of 11-year-old Sarah Foxwell was found.

The child was reported missing from the bedroom she shared with her 6-year-old sister and Lewis, with a team of dedicated officers, questioned Thomas Leggs Jr., the man Sarah’s aunt had dated, a convicted offender who, it turned out, had abducted, sexually attacked and killed Sarah, then burned the body.

That holiday, before the tragic discovery, thousands of Salisbury and area residents, as well as those living states away,  put down cups of festive eggnog and left Christmas gifts unwrapped, choosing instead to join a massive search party in a touching show of compassion for the family.

Later, Lewis called the case the most difficult in his then-35 years of law enforcement.

Sarah Foxwell’s murder is explored in the new book “Sheriff Mike Lewis: Constitutional. Uncanceled,” written by retired Salisbury University Communications Professor Haven Simmons.

The title refers to Lewis’ deep knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and his belief in protecting Americans’ rights, Simmons said. The 221-page paperback, selling for $18.95, was published by Defiance Press based in Conroe, Texas. There is also a Kindle version that costs 14.99.

The book, published in December, has quickly gained popularity, with Lewis receiving hundreds of requests to autograph copies, but the Sheriff, in his hometown, down-to-earth way, deflected the spotlight.

“Well, I think everybody wants to know more about an individual. If they like you, if they are intrigued by you, if they like your work, they want to know as much about you as possible and I really let Haven dig into that. I have been deluged with people who have ordered the book” with readers from Maryland and as far away as Alabama, Oklahoma and Florida, asking him to sign copies and  mail them back.

“I’m extremely happy and gratified with the book. Dr. Haven Simmons has done a fantastic job. Haven said he enjoyed following my career and, really, it has been a rewarding career. I think people would like to hear a little bit about it. Haven told me he wanted to write this book and I said, ‘I am willing to sit down with you as many times as you like,’” Lewis said, remembering several meetings --  at a deli on Nanticoke Road, in the former Devage’s and in Lewis’ office.

They talked about Maryland State Trooper Edward Plank who, on Oct. 17, 1995, was shot in the face with a .45-caliber handgun by someone he stopped near Perry Road in Westover.

“I remember getting that phone call and being the only trooper in the room with him, in the hospital. He was killed instantly. They kept bagging him and pumping him in the ER. I was so distraught. He was there in his uniform. I remember, I wiped the blood off his badge with my hand,” Lewis said.

Plank, 28, was married and the father of a 7-month-old baby girl.

An early chapter “captures his persona and the ambience of the Eastern Shore, his career as a drug interdiction state trooper and his approach to drug interdiction,” Simmons said. Lewis, 57, a graduate of Wicomico High School,  spent 22 years as a Maryland State Trooper before running for Sheriff in 2006 and remaining in the seat since. He recently filed for a fifth term.

“The book goes into showcasing the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office, the modernization, upgrades, the innovation that took place since 2006, when he took over,” Simmons said, and explores other cases “that make us all realize, yes, ladies and gentlemen, we do need law enforcement and defunding of police is certainly not a good idea.”

Another chapter focuses on the riots in Baltimore in April 2015. Lewis, with deputies, went there to help after Gov. Larry Hogan ordered an additional 5,000 law enforcement officers following violent protests sparked by the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died in a police vehicle after being arrested.

There’s a chapter about the Second Amendment, which guarantees Americans the right to keep and bear arms. Lewis made news in 2019 when he outspokenly said if Maryland lawmakers started regulating the ownership of rifles and shotguns, his office would not comply. He would refuse to order his deputies to take away guns from law-abiding citizens.

“We need to be serious about these things. The Second Amendment is a passion of Mike’s and he is trying to gain people’s attention about the gravity of the situation,” said Simmons, retired from Salisbury University and now living in Oregon with his wife. During his career, Simmons has worked in law enforcement public information and continues teaching media relations.

Lewis stresses he sought no financial or political gain from the book.

“Instead, I want the world to know that if we as a society want a good and strong America, then the police must be an integral part in making it so. If we in law enforcement do not uphold our U.S. Constitution and the principles of our founders, then we are no better than any other country that enslaves or impoverishes its citizens for their own leaders’ power and personal gain. Strong leadership is essential to the future of our country,” he said.

He also announced he is writing his own book “on my many exploits while working drug interdiction as a Maryland State Trooper to include the shooting deaths and the arrests of those police officers gone astray.”

Lewis' book will also include “from my eyes, the seizures of millions of dollars in cocaine, heroin and bulk U.S. currency seized from very elaborately constructed, after-market installed, electronically controlled hidden compartments right here along the Eastern Shore’s notorious U.S. Route 13.”

“Then I’ll take you for many tours of duty while working the infamous Interstate 95 drug corridor, where I supervised and orchestrated many seizures from Miami to Maine. What we saw. What we endured. What we experienced as we encountered the worst of the worst,” he said.

“I think the world of him,” Simmons said about Lewis, recalling how the Sheriff transfixed students when he spoke to Simmons’ classes.

“I watched this man absolutely rivet 20-year-old kids for over two hours, kids whose attention spans are fairly dubious. You have this classroom listening to Mike Lewis and you say to yourself, ‘This is, without a doubt, one of the most dynamic speakers I have ever heard and maybe the most dynamic speaker I have ever heard.’ He likes the interaction with the students.  That is how I got to know Mike a bit better. I wrote a couple of pro-law enforcement columns over the years that he recommended I get published in a local newspaper.

“Mike liked my columns so when I decided to write this book, I interviewed him six times and then I did a lot of online research about various cases the Sheriff’s Office investigated, different scenarios, public outreach, all kinds of things. This book tries to capture Mike’s persona,” Simmons said.

If he retires as Sheriff, Lewis said, he has considered running for elected office, but his wife is opposed.

“I’ve been able to do exactly what I have wanted to in my career, and as Sheriff, but she has made it clear that once I’m done she doesn’t want me to run for Congress or Senate,” he said.

“I love Salisbury. I love Wicomico County. I love this county. I was born and raised here. I have nieces and nephews going to school here. I have siblings here and I don’t want to leave the county unprotected,” he said.

“And I am still enjoying the job.”