SLED arrests Chester city councilman accused of threatening police chief

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comMarch 27, 2014 

— A Chester City Council member was arrested and charged Wednesday with threatening the city’s police chief and another officer after a council meeting two weeks ago.

Councilman Odell Williams has been charged with two counts of threatening the life of a public official, according to arrest warrants drafted by the State Law Enforcement Division, which investigated the March 10 dispute at the police chief’s request. Those charges are considered felonies, officials say, and carry up to five years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine upon conviction.

On Thursday, Odell Williams said “the two things they accuse me of are certainly bogus.”

The warrants say investigators used statements from “multiple” witnesses to establish probable cause to file charges against the councilman.

Odell Williams said the only witnesses they spoke with were the two people who made the allegations. More, he refuted claims that he reached into his pocket, implying that he had a weapon, during his argument with police. He questioned why neither Chief Andre’ Williams nor Maj. Gene Gilmore frisked him if they suspected he might have a gun, which he said would not have been able to fit into his pockets.

“You’re a certified law enforcement officer within arm’s reach and you don’t check to see if they have a weapon? When I was in law enforcement, if I thought (a suspect) had a weapon, I’m going to frisk (them).”

Odell Williams is a law enforcement veteran, having served on the Chester Police Department for more than 20 years.

Chief Williams declined to comment on Thursday. Keisha Tobias, Chester Police spokesperson, also declined to comment.

Efforts to reach Chester Mayor Wanda Stringfellow and April Counterman, city attorney, were unsuccessful Thursday.

Sandi Worthy, city administrator, said any punitive actions against Odell Williams, such as censorship, will be decided by council members. Worthy said the council had not met to discuss the matter by Thursday evening.

“I think we’re very resilient,” she said. “I don’t think by far this is the worst thing that’s happened or will happen. We’re human ... tempers flare ... but we’ll bounce back.”

Odell Williams’ status on the council is not jeopardized unless he is convicted of a crime, said Jeff Shacker, field services manager with the Municipal Association of South Carolina.

Shacker said crimes “involving moral turpitude” would suggest a public official has “lost the qualification to serve.” Those crimes can include murder, fraud or lewd behavior, but Shacker said he has not heard of threatening public officials falling under that category.

“I think in this particular case, council would need to be careful how they respond if they respond at all,” he said.

‘Young people slang’

The dispute between the councilman and police chief began at the end of City Council’s March 10 meeting when Odell Williams left council chambers to use the restroom.

Chief Williams and Maj. Gilmore had been inside having a conversation, according to a Chester Police report. Odell Williams became upset because he thought the chief and major stopped talking because he walked in the restroom.

The report claims Odell Williams, who owns Williams Concrete Works on Saluda Road, asked Chief Williams and Gilmore why they stopped talking. The chief told him they finished their conversation. After suggesting the two stopped speaking because he walked in, Odell Williams asked Chief Williams: “You don’t like me, do you?” The chief denied having a problem with the councilman, the report states. Odell Williams then addressed Gilmore, saying, “I don’t like the chief nor you,” the report states.

Odell Williams, the report claims, began using racial epithets, warning that he keeps his “stuff on me.” All three men involved in the situation are black.

Outside City Hall, the councilman, with his hand allegedly shaking in his pockets, told the chief: “I have my stuff on me now, and I am not afraid to use it,” the report states.

He then threatened to go to Gilmore’s house, the report states, and “take you out if I have to … I have lived my life.”

The chief repeatedly asked Councilman Williams if he was threatening him. He also asked another councilman to listen to what Odell Williams was saying. “I don’t care who you call,” Odell Williams replied before uttering another threat and then walking off.

While transparent about tensions with Chief Williams, Odell Williams on Thursday maintained that he never threatened to harm the chief or Gilmore. He said he regrets using the “N” word.

“I regret the whole situation,” he said, but, “I look forward to a day in court.”

SLED investigators called Odell Williams Wednesday evening and asked him to turn himself in on his warrants. He was booked in jail but released on a personal recognizance bond.

He told The Herald that he plans to speak with private lawyers.

Odell Williams said the incident is a “verbal confrontation that has been blown out of proportion.” He said “in no way, shape, form or fashion” did he threaten to “take out” the chief or Gilmore.

“That’s young people slang, and I’ve never said that in my life,” he said. “They can’t prove that ... without lying.”

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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