CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Some law enforcement agencies in South Carolina have failed to follow state law when it comes to reporting when an officer leaves their job because of allegations of misconduct, while others never even show up to prosecute misconduct cases.
Now, some of the state’s top law enforcement leaders are calling for sanctions against agencies which fail to police their own.
In January, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office formally notified the state’s Law Enforcement Training Council that one of its deputy’s had resigned because of allegations of misconduct. However, the alert was nearly eight months too late.
The deputy had already been hired by the Mount Pleasant Police Department a month after he was accused of lying to another officer about hitting two cars and leaving the scene.
“What you don’t want to see is that they turn in paperwork six months or a year after that officer’s gone and they’ve already gone to work somewhere else,” Director Jackie Swindler said. He is the head of the SC Criminal Justice Academy, which is governed by the SCLETC.
A spokesperson for the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said, “In this particular case, the separation form wasn’t sent within 30 days, as the admin person that formerly worked in that position did not send the form, which was out of the ordinary. But again, the certification is still valid, pending a hearing.”
The Personnel Change in Status report would have notified and initiated a hearing before SCLETC sooner. The state’s top law enforcement officials would consider removing the deputy’s license to wear a badge in South Carolina.
Instead, the council was forced to accept the form more than 250 days late.
The issue was addressed by the council in its January meeting after at least four agencies failed to file the paperwork within the 30-day limit required by state law.
The transcript from the meeting suggested if these forms are not accepted because of an agency’s failure to turn them in on time, officers who have committed egregious misconduct may still be working.
“Accepting these late forms may ensure that an officer who has committed misconduct, especially of an egregious nature, will not be exempted from the consequences of his or her actions,” the transcript stated.
Swindler said if an agency head knows of the misconduct and fails to report the allegation, they, too, could be guilty of misconduct.
The issue has forced the law enforcement training council to take a closer look at its powers to hold agencies accountable.
Swindler believe sanctions will eventually have to be imposed on agencies that repeatedly fail to follow the law.
“As the director I have a civil authority that I could impose a $1,500 fine to an agency head, then the training council would have to hear that and impose that,” Swindler said.
The head of the State Law Enforcement Division, known as SLED, also wants the training council to consider sanctions against agencies that do file misconduct paperwork, but then never show up to prosecute their cases.
“It’s concerning to us because we’ve seen a pattern of this recently,” Chief Mark Keel said. ‘The statute says that at that point we have to find that officer is eligible for recertification and that all the records get expunged, and that’s just not acceptable… We’ve got to do something to be able to hold these agencies responsible.”
Since the start of 2019 to now, the certifications of dozens of law enforcement officers in South Carolina have either been suspended, permanently revoked or denied because of misconduct.
This is a civil penalty separate from any criminal charges the officers may face.
However, the hands of the SCLETC may be tied if an agency fails to make its case for why an officer should lose their license to enforce the law.
“These folks that are hiring these officers, if they aren’t doing these things, they need to be held accountable as well. And if they’re not doing them, then they don’t need to be a department,” Keel said.
Last year, the training council approved a civil penalty of up to $500 for any agency that fails to prosecute a case of misconduct.
But to date, no agencies have been sanctioned for failing to prosecute or failing to notify the SCLETC of officers who have left their jobs because of misconduct.
“A lot of times they are small agencies, and we realize that. They are smaller agencies; they may just be a few officers in that department. Most probably don’t have a general counsel, a city attorney that can come….some of them have some legitimate sort of reasons, but the COO of those departments, if they sign the paperwork and say this officer committed misconduct, then they need to take responsibility for being here and prosecuting the case,” Keel said.
If an officer permanently loses their certification in South Carolina, they are barred from being a cop in the Palmetto State ever again. Their name is also added to a national database which alerts agencies in other states of an officer’s prior misconduct, according to Keel.
After the training council was eventually notified of the Charleston County deputy’s alleged misconduct in January, he was fired from the Mount Pleasant police force.
A spokesperson for the department said, “Once it was noticed there was an issue with his certification, he was terminated.”