Friday, March 7, 2008

More SC state trooper videos, to amaze and astound

Left: South Carolina state flag.

After incidents of racism were brought to light in recently-released videos starring our South Carolina state troopers, we thought we'd heard the last of it for awhile.

Are you kidding?

It just gets worse, as we wake up this morning to more scandals, more videos and more embarrassment.

Troopers taunt Lexington County narcotics officers working undercover

Lawmaker shows newspaper a tape of state officers harassing county narcotics team

Friday, March 7, 2008
By Tim Smith

COLUMBIA -- Months before the South Carolina Senate confirmed Jim Schweitzer in 2004 as the new director of the Department of Public Safety, Sen. Jake Knotts of Lexington said he showed him a videotape of Highway Patrol troopers harassing local narcotics agents on a stakeout because the troopers were upset the local officers were in their territory.

The troopers, in an unmarked SUV, parked near the local agents and then did what they could to discourage the agents from staying, Knotts said, including shining their lights on the highway, shouting and singing over their vehicle's loudspeaker and turning on their blue lights. And when the agents finally pulled out onto the highway in pursuit of the car they were waiting on, the troopers blocked them, Knotts said.

He said Schweitzer told him that he couldn't believe what he was seeing when watching the tape after Knotts told him that the commander of the patrol, Russell Roark, didn't always hand out the necessary punishment when his officers misbehaved.

Three months ago, Knotts said, he warned Schweitzer again, telling him he would have problems with his confirmation for a second term if he didn't do something about Roark.

On Friday, Roark and Schweitzer submitted their resignations, after Gov. Mark Sanford watched with dismay another videotape dated later in 2004 of a trooper shouting a racial slur and threatening to kill a black man he was chasing from the scene of a traffic stop in Greenwood County.

The trooper was given a written reprimand and ordered to counseling by Schweitzer after receiving a recommendation from Roark. Sanford told reporters Friday that the trooper should have been fired.

Schweitzer and Roark couldn't be reached Wednesday to comment.

On Wednesday, Knotts, a frequent Sanford critic, and Sen. Kay Patterson, a Columbia Democrat and a member of the Legislative Black Caucus that brought the Greenwood video to Sanford's attention, took to the Senate floor to praise Sanford for his actions.

Patterson said he wasn't surprised that Schweitzer, a former FBI agent, hadn't acted more severely against the trooper because of the racial background of the FBI. He said he recalled FBI agents not taking any action when blacks were being harassed or attacked by whites in the civil rights era. He also remembered former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover declaring no blacks would be hired by the FBI.

"I'm happy and proud my governor stood up," he said.

Knotts talked of the January 2004 videotape on the floor of the Senate and said he had given a copy to Sanford's office four days before Roark and Schweitzer resigned.

Joel Sawyer, a spokesman for Sanford, said a senior staffer watched the video but what was happening on the tape was too difficult to discern, especially in comparison to the Greenwood County video of the trooper issuing the racial slur.

Sid Gaulden, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said Schweitzer wasn't in Wednesday and Roark was no longer working in the office, having been replaced by a former lieutenant colonel of the patrol.

He said the leader of the trooper team that Knotts complained about was eventually demoted because of the incident and transferred. He said the trooper later sued the state over his punishment. Gaulden said the trooper died several years and he didn't know the outcome of the suit.

Knotts on Wednesday played the tape for The Greenville News. The tape begins with a tirade from troopers upset over the local agents being in their territory, then shifts to the troopers' SUV parking near the agents, with its lights shining on the highway.

Eventually, the troopers begin using their loudspeaker, including singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb." The tape also shows the SUV turning on its police lights and then blocking the local agents' vehicle as they tried to pursue a car.

Knotts said he may release a copy of the videotape later to The Greenville News.

According to Knotts, a supervisor of the narcotics team took the tape to Roark, who he said gave the troopers a written reprimand but allowed them to continue working in Lexington County.

Knotts said he then complained to Roark, who he said seemed unconcerned. So Knotts said he took the tape to Schweitzer's predecessor, Boykin Rose, who then took action against the troopers, including moving them out of the county.

He said he believes Schweitzer is a good man but relied too much on Roark.

About three months ago, Knotts said, he gave Schweitzer some advice.

"I told him, 'You have some serious problems,'" Knotts said. "I told him that Roark was going to take him down. I said, 'You need to get rid of Roark and straighten up that thing. If you don't, you're not going to get confirmed.'"

Trooper turns on lights to "out" undercover officer

Confrontation between state trooper and undercover officer

Related story: Retired troopers allege favoritism

Friday, March 7, 2008
By Tim Smith
COLUMBIA -- Two retired Highway Patrol officers allege widespread favoritism existed in their agency, allegations that included favoritism in the Patrol’s promotion system that one said was detailed more than a year ago to Gov. Mark Sanford and director of the Department of Public Safety, Jim Schweitzer.

The retired officers, in interviews with The Greenville News, also allege that some favored troopers were promoted or rehired after being accused of wrongdoing, including one trooper who was charged with breaking into his ex-wife’s residence, another convicted of DUI and one accused of being in an "inappropriate" situation in a hotel with a death penalty case juror.

The issue of appropriate discipline and promotions at the Patrol has surfaced in recent weeks after years of behind-the-scenes meetings between black lawmakers, the director of Public Safety, Jim Schweitzer, and Sanford.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus asked senators recently to halt the confirmation of Schweitzer to a second term, saying he hadn’t properly responded to their complaints.

Schweitzer and Col. Russell Roark, commander of the Highway Patrol, submitted their resignations Friday after Sanford watched with dismay a 2004 video of a white trooper issuing a racial slur and threatening a black man he chased following a traffic stop. The trooper was given a written reprimand and ordered to attend counseling. Sanford said he should have been fired.

Roark is on leave pending his retirement, an agency spokesman said Thursday, and couldn’t be reached for comment. Schweitzer also couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.

Joel Sawyer, a spokesman for Sanford, confirmed that one of the retired officers met with the governor but he didn’t know what they talked about.

Sid Gaulden, a spokesman for the agency, said Schweitzer wouldn’t be responding to the former troopers’ allegations.

"Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, favoritism is in the eye of the beholder," he said. "If you don’t get promoted, you think it’s favoritism."

He said the issues raised by the two former troopers can vary widely depending on who you talk to.

Joseph Kerbs, who left the Patrol as a sergeant in 2007 after about 24 years, and Daniel Bledsoe, who left the Patrol in October 2006 as a first sergeant after 19 years, said they are publicly talking about their former agency because they are concerned about the future of the Patrol.

"It’s like a cancer that is going to have to be dug out somehow or another," Bledsoe said. "The guy on the road (troopers) is the one who is going to suffer and they shouldn’t have to."

Bledsoe said after he retired he signed up to talk to the governor near the start of 2007 in one of his monthly offers to give citizens five minutes of his time. He said he told Sanford about problems with the promotion system and Sanford asked him to stay longer. The governor then asked him to come back for another meeting, at which Schweitzer would be there, Bledsoe said.

When Schweitzer arrived, Bledsoe said, Sanford asked him if he knew why he had asked him to come.

"He said, ‘This is about some of the same issues we’ve talked about before,’" Bledsoe quoted the governor as saying. "The governor seemed concerned about it because he said he had heard some of the same allegations before. That’s what he told Jim Schweitzer."

Bledsoe said afterward he warned Schweitzer that if he didn’t "take control of that agency, Roark is going to take you down with him."

Those were almost the identical words of warning Sen. Jake Knotts said he used with Schweitzer three months ago.

Knotts showed The News another 2004 video this week that he said shows a team of Highway Patrol officers, upset about Lexington narcotics officers being in their territory, harassing the narcotics officers in their stakeout. He said he showed the tape to Schweitzer before his first confirmation to show him problems that were in the Patrol.

Bledsoe and Kerbs alleged that those who were liked by the agency’s top leaders got promotions while those who weren’t so liked or pointed out wrongdoing didn’t progress.

"People were scared of Russell Roark because Schweitzer allowed him to run things with an iron fist," Kerbs said. "It was like a dictatorship. If Russell Roark wanted something done, somebody promoted or punished, it was going to happen."

And the opposite was also true, Kerbs alleged.

Kerbs said he and others attempted to write up a corporal who repeatedly left his command during the night to go home, even though he was scheduled to work at night. He said nothing was done to the corporal. When he attempted to give him a less than sterling evaluation, Kerbs alleged he was pressured by a superior to change his review, which he said he eventually did.

Bledsoe said the superiors remained agitated at Kerbs for his attempt to write up the corporal, who was eventually promoted. Gaulden said he heard the allegations for the first time from members of the Black Caucus but hadn’t checked into them and had no comment on them.

Kerbs said he and Roark started about the same time in their careers but didn’t get along. Kerbs said he repeatedly found some of the same people on his promotion boards over the years, boards that repeatedly turned down his requests for promotions. He left the agency, he said, in frustration last year.

Before he left, however, he said he saw others who were accused of wrongdoing but seemed to escape any severe punishment at the agency, such as a former officer who dated a subordinate that he eventually married. The officer, Kerbs alleged, was later accused of being in an "inappropriate" situation in a hotel room with a juror during a death penalty trial. Gaulden said he knew nothing of the allegation and had no comment on it.

Another trooper, whom Kerbs said was a good friend of Roark’s, left the Patrol after 13 years and was later convicted of DUI as a civilian.

About 10 years later he was hired by the State Transport Police, then transferred to the Highway Patrol, where he had a series of promotions. That example has also been cited by members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who brought the videotape to Sanford’s attention and have called for an overhaul of the Highway Patrol’s promotion system.

Gaulden said the trooper did have a DUI but that state regulations allow his hiring as a law enforcement officer as long as he had no DUI within five years of his hiring, which he said was the case. He said he graduated from the Criminal Justice Academy before going to work for the transport police. He said he remains with the Patrol.

A sergeant, Kerbs alleges, was charged with burglary after he was accused of breaking into his ex-wife’s residence. He left the Patrol and was rehired, Kerbs said. Gaulden said he knew nothing of that allegation and had no comment on it.

Bledsoe said he was aware of each of the allegations.

He said he would like to see South Carolina follow the example of North Carolina, which uses an assessment center operated by an organization outside the agency, for promotions. Troopers are evaluated by the outside center and their scores listed for all employees to see. When a promotion or job comes available, every trooper there knows who has the first chance for it, he said.

Sanford has said he wants the next director of Public Safety to look at a new system for promotions.
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nataliaantonova said...

God DAMN, this stuff is sad.

Especially for someone with Cackalacky pride (well, North Cackalacky, anyway, but I have forayed down to the neighbours in the South quite a bit).

Oh, and on a completely unrelated note, do you know that I completely missed your comment about Facebook being snobbish on my blog? I just saw it randomly.

I guess the Facebook thing, for me, boils down to the fact that anyone can join the too-cool-for-school groups.

And take it from me, I am extremely uncool. Although with class privilege attached. Can't forget that.