public safety department

Top SC cop fired for protesting traffic stop

tflach@thestate.comFebruary 1, 2013 

— A top state public safety official lost his job after arguing repeatedly with state troopers during a late-night traffic stop in the St. Andrews area of Columbia last month.

Bobby Collins, who was chief of the internal affairs investigative unit at the state Department of Public Safety, was fired hours after the Jan. 10 incident.

State public safety director Leroy Smith terminated Collins for his behavior during the stop, according to records made public Friday through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Collins, who couldn’t be reached for comment, was stopped by a state Highway Patrol officer on suspicion of drunken driving but passed tests and wasn’t charged. Another trooper joined them later.

But Collins was angry at being detained, chastising the troopers often while telling them he was head of the unit that weighs complaints about their performance.

Those actions, caught on a trooper’s car video camera, are “conduct unbecoming a state employee,” Smith said in a letter of dismissal for Collins from a post he has held since May 2.

The 80-minute video of the stop that occurred about 1:30 a.m. Jan. 10 on Greystone Boulevard near Broad River Road shows Collins repeatedly in testy exchanges, scolding troopers for “poor judgment” and “a big mistake.”

Recording such videos is standard practice when a motorist is pulled over by a trooper.

Collins told troopers repeatedly of his position as the lead of a four-officer unit – the Office of Professional Responsibility – that investigates Highway Patrol members for alleged impropriety.

“I work for the same department you do,” he said. “I’m OPR.”

Collins suggested a few times that the troopers contact their superiors, including Smith.

“I’m willing to forget,” he said during a series of discussions. “But to intentionally tarnish me – that’s almost hard to forgive.”

Trooper S.M. Groubert told Collins he was stopped for swerving and needed to undergo a sobriety test for drunken driving, calling that standard practice.

Collins replied he was putting a cap on an orange juice bottle while driving to an all-night store and hadn’t imbibed alcoholic beverages or taken medication.

He complained the stop was harassment and was angry at being handcuffed after Groubert told Collins he had become “extremely belligerent.”

“What you are doing to me now is basically what South Carolina has had a bad reputation for throughout the years,” Collins said at one point. “It’s so wrong.”

“I’m not trying to give anybody a hard time,” Groubert replied. “I wish you’d be more cooperative.”

Collins continually asked troopers to let him go, saying he was out to buy razors so he was presentable for interviewing job candidates later that day.

“You’re not rectifying the situation,” he told them. “You’re escalating the situation.”

Smith declined comment through a spokeswoman, saying he doesn’t discuss personnel decisions publicly.

The review of Collins followed “the same protocol” for reviewing the conduct of any public safety employee, agency spokeswoman Sherry Iacobelli said.

Public safety employees must “never act officiously,” the agency’s code of ethics says.

The code also requires them to observe “the highest standards of personal integrity, truthfulness, honesty, courtesy and fortitude in all my public activities.”

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