Cola. police chief fired by city manager, interim named

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The Columbia Police Department has been through a whirlwind of a day as Police Chief Tandy Carter was fired and a new interim chief was selected only in the span of a few hours.

Carter was fired Monday morning by City Manager Steve Gantt after only two years with the department. In a letter to his staff, Gantt said he had fired the police chief "in the best interest of the city."

Hours later, the city announced department veteran Col. Carl Burke had been selected as the interim chief until a suitable replacement was found.

Burke, a Hopkins native, started with the department as a beat cop in 1979 before working his way up to his latest role.

At a news conference, Burke stopped short when it came to Carter's tenure over the department.

"I would prefer not to comment on what I thought his impact was," said Burke. "I was very proud to work with Chief Carter, had I thought a very good relationship with each other. I thought he had a good relationship with this department."

Carter spoke to the media shortly after his termination was made public. He used his time to say he did not tolerate or appreciate outsiders telling him how to run his department.

"I am a professional police chief," said Carter. "I've been police chiefing for about 20 years of my life. I am not a puppet police chief."

Carter said he's not angry, but he is concerned that the investigation into the accident involving Mayor-elect Steve Benjamin seems to be managed by City Hall instead of CPD. 

"There is no law or protocol for handing over this type of investigation," said Carter. Mr. Benjamin, until he takes office, is just like any other citizen and investigation was handled appropriately," Carter said.

In recent weeks, some city officials had questioned whether Carter has lived up to those claims, especially in his approach to the investigation of the accident involving Mayor-elect Steve Benjamin.

Carter insisted from the start that his department could conduct the probe impartially without calling in the South Carolina Highway Patrol. He maintained that position despite criticism from city council members and others who said an outside agency would have to take over to reassure the public.

"I acted within the scope of my authority and sometimes when you do that not everybody agrees with you but the question becomes is it lawful? Is it ethical? If you answer those questions then well yes it is lawful and ethical and I cant be compelled to follow an unethical order," said Carter.

It all came to ahead last week when Carter reached out to Attorney General Henry McMaster for an opinion on whether or not he could discuss the active investigation with Columbia City Council.

On Friday, McMaster issued an opinion telling Carter the city "would be well within its authority" to order him to transfer the case. McMaster also said the council could approve a new rule that would require the patrol to investigate any other future accidents or traffic offenses involving top city officials.

While Carter has now asked the patrol to review his department's findings, Gantt is taking a close look at Carter's performance on this and other issues.

Gantt was caught completely off guard by Carter's letter to the attorney general. In fact, Gantt said so was city attorney Ken Gaines, who discovered Carter's request by accident while talking with McMaster's office about the same issues. 

Public Safety director Mike King says he doesn't know when the search for a permanent chief will begin, or how long that process might take.

King said the city's priority today was to ensure a quick, easy change of leadership at the police department.

Meanwhile, Carter says he plans to file a grievance over his termination.

Copyright 2010 WIS. All rights reserved.