PICKENS COUNTY, SC (WYFF) - A police officer who was terminated after issuing a speeding ticket to Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney says that the excuse used for his firing was a "red herring" and the mayor's anger over the ticket led to his wrongful termination.
Officer Michael McClatchy and his attorney held a news conference Thursday morning. McClatchy read a detailed account of what he says happened on Sept. 14 and in the aftermath of the traffic stop.
Records show that Swinney was clocked going 63 mph in a 35 mph zone on Sept. 3 at 8 p.m. on the way to his radio call-in show. He was cited for speeding.
McClatchy said he reduced Swinney's ticket to four points and a $185 fine, down from a six-point ticket with a $445 fine.
McClatchy said Chief Rodney Gregory later reduced the ticket further to an $81.50 fine, and two points on Swinney's license.
Gregory said that McClatchy behaved professionally during the stop, but that he was terminated because he used a department computer on Sept. 14 to detail his version of what happened during the stop and posted it on a website.
At Thursday's news conference, McClatchy said he pulled over the Ford F150 driven by Dabo Swinney in the parking lot of the BI-LO store on Highway 8 in Pickens.
McClatchy said after he pulled the truck over, the coach and his brother, Tracy Swinney, got out of the truck. McClatchy said Tracy Swinney told him that he was a retired police officer from Alabama and asked if he would take that into consideration.
The officer said he made several requests for the brothers to get back into the truck, but they refused to do so.
McClatchy said during the traffic stop, the manager of the BI-LO store came out and told him Pickens mayor David Owens was on the phone and wanted to speak to him. McClatchy said he didn't take the call because he was conducting a traffic stop.
McClatchy said at that point, he was approached by Tracy Swinney who made several degrading comments about him as a police officer, including that he was a "disgrace to the badge" and that he would "get it one day" --- all on dash cam
When McClatchy returned to work on Sept 4, he said Chief Rodney Gregory told him that Dabo Swinney called him at about 9 p.m. on the night of the traffic stop and said he was displeased with how McClatchy had handled it and that he had handled it unprofessionally.
McClatchy said the chief told him that he reviewed the dash cam recording and agreed with the officer that he had acted professionally. McClatchy told the chief that he had located several online postings about the traffic stop and he told him he "intended to set the record straight." He said Gregory responded in a humorous manner and said, "Hell, it's just a speeding ticket. Just don't put my name out there."
McClatchy said that he spoke to the chief again on when he was at the police department for city court Sept. 6. He said they had a conversation in which Gregory told him he reduced the ticket further, and that payment had already been received, along with a letter of apology from Dabo Swinney
McClatchy read the letter that the chief gave to him. It said:
"I appreciate your cooperation to reduce the ticket and I apologize for speeding and for being a distraction. I have always had the utmost respect for law enforcement. I wish the situation had been handled differently, but I appreciate the latitude you provided with reducing the points and fine. Please call on me if I can be of assistance.
The chief gave the letter to McClatchy.
McClatchy said during conversation, he, the chief and other officers viewed an internet posting about the traffic stop on a city-owned computer.
He said, incidentally, he had never reduced a six-point ticket to a two-point ticket.
McClatchy said there was much scrutiny from Sept 4-11 about the issuing of the ticket.
He said coworkers were making remarks such as, "nice working with you," and he was told that mayor was angry that he had not taken his call.
McClatchy said he believes the ticket would have been completely done away with if he had not carried out his desire to avoid preferential treatment for the offending driver.
He said because of the continued attention and inaccurate information, on Sept. 12 at about 12:30 a.m. on a personal computer at his home, he posted his recounting of the events in order to set the record straight.
McClatchy said on Sept. 14 at 3:37 a.m., he corrected a grammatical error in the posting that generated a last-edited time stamp at the bottom of the post. He said documentation from the website verifies when the post was created and edited, but the city did not know that because officials never questioned him about it, and that lack of information resulted in his termination.
He said during his employment with the department, personal Internet use of computers was a regular practice by all department employees and it was never a problem.
McClatchy said on Sept. 17, he was contacted by a superior officer who told him that Gregory said he would no longer be working there by the end of the day. The officer suggested that McClatchy submit a letter of resignation.
Later on Sept. 17, after several requests, McClatchy said Gregory contacted him by phone and asked him to turn in his equipment. He asked him to resign, and when McClatchy refused, he says Gregory terminated him over the phone. McClatchy said he asked the chief for a reason for the termination in writing, and he replied, "Bring me my stuff and I will leave it for you.
McClatchy said he turned in his equipment that day, but never received a letter of termination with the reason. He said he read a media post about his termination that mentioned an employee warning report. McClatchy said he received that employee warning report in the mail on Sept. 21. He said he had never seen the report and knew nothing about the information it contained.
He said in the entire time he worked for the department, he never saw an employee warning report. He also said that copies of the report given to the media had "refused to sign" on the employee signature line.
McClatchy said, "This is a false representation. I never refused to sign any document related to the termination because I was never presented with anything."
He said less than one month before the incident, he had been promoted to corporal. He said during his employment, he has observed several infractions by other officers, some serious, that were usually addressed with no discipline taken, despite being much more serious than the offense that led to his firing.
He said, "I was wrongfully terminated for doing my job. The computer issue is a red herring. The law should be enforced in a fair manner and applied equally to everyone. I took a solemn oath to do just that, and that is what I did."
McClatchy's attorney, Donald Chuck Allen, said the officer attributed the mayor's anger to being a major factor in his firing.
Allen said, "The mayor needs to be asked why he's making a call to intervene in a traffic stop."
When asked if his client will sue, Allen said, "He's going to avail himself of every protection of the law, and that's certainly being seriously considered
When asked if he wanted his job back, McClatchy said, "I enjoyed my job at the police department, but I think going back at this time, there'd definitely be a larger target on me. It would be difficult."
Allen said, "He'll continue in law enforcement because he's a very good police officer."
McClatchy has been a Pickens police officer for the past two years, and previously from Nov. 2006 to May 2007.