Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott resigns citing battle with PTSD
COLUMBIA, SC (WISTV) - An emotional Randy Scott announced Monday afternoon he is stepping down from the helm of the Columbia Police Department citing a struggle with stress on the job and complications from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I can tell you that over a month ago, I began to realize that things were eating at me," said Scott, who indicated he was speaking to the media on his own accord. "There were things that I didn't realize that bothered me and not until recently, I realized what that was. I am a law enforcement officer, but I forgot that I also have a family."
Losing a young deputy he had hired while at the Richland County Sheriff's Department has haunted Scott for years, he said.
On May 5, 2005, 24-year-old Byron "Keith" Cannon died after his patrol car ran through a median barrier on Interstate 20 near Highway 378 and hit two other vehicles.
Deputy Cannon was following another deputy and responding to an alleged assault call when he lost control and ran into the median barrier.
A South Carolina Highway Patrol investigation concluded Cannon lost control and that no other vehicle forced him off the road.
Scott had been with Cannon just hours before the crash. "We were leaving a police officer's memorial and that's an ironic day because two hours later that same young man that I hired...died," said Scott.
He said he did not realize how Cannon's death affected him until discussing it in counseling.
"You shouldn't hire someone and then look down in the car and see that person deceased. It was something that I couldn't let go."
"So, they call it PTSD," said Scott. "You can call it stress, but I have to call it what it is and it was something that was tearing me apart for a very long time."
Scott said he spoke out about the incident because he wants other officers to know it's okay to talk about incidents like this that bother them and to ask for help.
"I'm a man that's a Marine," said Scott. "But, in the Marine Corps, we knew when were going to war. As law enforcement, your life changes by the hour."
"So I beg of you to let me now complete what I have started and to allow this department to continue doing the great work."
Scott said he plans to return to law enforcement, but did not indicate when that would happen. "I'm a law enforcement officer and I will be back in law enforcement," said Scott. "I finally have to take this time for me so that I can be the person that I am personally."
"We regretfully, but understandably accept his resignation," said City Manager Teresa Wilson. Scott's resignation is effective May 1.
The move comes three weeks after Scott was given permission to take an indefinite leave of absence for "personal issues."
At the time he did not elaborate on his reasoning for submitting his request for leave, Wilson said on April 2.
His four sentence letter to Senior Assistant Administrator Allison Baker on April 1 also did not reveal any details.
Dear Senior Assistant Administrator Allison Baker:
I am respectfully requesting a personal leave of absence. I am requesting this for an undetermined amount of time. I have some personal issues to take care of. I will return immediately once I have addressed some task (sic) I have to complete.
When the mysterious leave was made public, city officials said there was not an internal affairs investigation of Scott and he was not under disciplinary action.
Deputy Chief of Operations Ruben Santiago took over leadership of the department that day. He will continue in that role until the city announces a permanent replacement for Scott.
The city plans to conduct a nationwide search to fill the position.
Santiago was also in charge of the department in January when Scott retired because of changes to the South Carolina Police Retirement System that would have limited his financial earnings.
Scott was one of two applicants for the job and was rehired shortly after his departure. He returned to work on January 16 earning $112,000 per year.
Scott had been at the helm of the police department since October 2010. He was named interim chief when then acting Chief Carl Burke retired. Three months later, he was sworn in as the permanent chief.
The former Marine and veteran of the Richland County Sheriff's Department rose through the sheriff's department ranks to become chief deputy in early 2010. He took what was essentially the number two leadership position after former Chief Deputy Dan Johnson ran a successful campaign to become Fifth Circuit Solicitor.
He was named Columbia's "City Officer of the Year" in 2012. "Chief Scott has built a first-class law enforcement agency for the people of this city," said Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin during the annual Strom Thurmond Awards for Excellence in Law Enforcement luncheon. "Under his leadership, the Columbia Police Department is smarter, stronger, friendlier and more effective than ever before. This award underlines that fact and I couldn't be more proud."
He is the 2010 recipient of the 16th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major for Justice Award. He has also been recognized as the commander of South Carolina's Crime Prevention Program of the Year in 2003 and was named the South Carolina Deputy of the Year in 2000.
Scott's tenure as chief was not been without controversy. In February, former Police Chief of Administration Isa Greene filed a lawsuit against the city, the police department and Chief Scott nearly a year after Scott fired Greene in connection to the botched Tom Sponseller search.
Her suit, in part, claims Scott "over-rode Greene's rejection of a female employee who lacked qualifications because he was having a relationship with the female employee, and as a related result, a qualified employee was not hired."
She also claims Scott hired three officers within days of her firing—officers that she'd sent rejection letters to just days before. When questioned about why the department would hire an unqualified candidate, Greene answered, "Because Chief Scott wanted them hired."
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