Although several years have elapsed since a state trooper was recorded using a racial slur during an arrest, we think Gov. Mark Sanford was justified in pressuring two top law-enforce-ment officials to resign for being too lenient on the officer.
Department of Public Safety director Jim Schweitzer, whom Sanford appointed in 2004, and Col. Russell Roark, who heads the Highway Patrol, offered their resignations Friday morning. Sanford, who said the trooper should have been fired, accepted the resignations.
The incident at the heart of this issue occurred during a routine traffic stop in Greenwood County in 2004. An hour-long video shows the officer asking occupants of the car if they have alcohol or weapons in the car. One of the men says no.
But after asking two of the passengers to get out of the car, the trooper finds a handgun inside the vehicle and orders one of the men to put his hands on the patrol car. At that point, one of the men flees.
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As the suspect flees, the trooper, who was not identified by the department, can be heard off-camera yelling: "You better run, n, because I'm fixin' to kill you."
Schweitzer and Roark, after viewing the tape, required the trooper to take anger management and diversity training. They also stated last week that they stood by that decision.
Sanford elected to ask for their resignations after viewing the tape with members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who showed it to him Thursday. The Caucus had been lobbying against the reappointment of Schweitzer to a second term because of the video and other incidents in which, Caucus members say, black motorists were treated unfairly by troopers.
The Caucus also has called for the resignation of Roark, who they and other lawmakers have said is unfair in the way he has promoted troopers.
Some, no doubt, will say Schweitzer and Roark are gone because Sanford wanted to appease Black Caucus members. Clearly, however, the video of the trooper and the black suspects speaks for itself and offers ample justification for asking the two officials to step down.
Using racial slurs while threatening to kill a suspect should be automatic grounds for firing a law-enforcement officer entrusted with maintaining order and protecting public safety. Offering the trooper the option of anger management and diversity training was insufficient punishment for the offense.
Most of South Carolina's state troopers undoubtedly are professionals committed to doing their jobs well and protecting the welfare of all residents. They should not be tainted by this incident.
But Roark and Schweitzer had the responsibility to demonstrate that the trooper's behavior was intolerable, whatever the circumstances. They failed to do that.
We think Sanford made the right call.
The dismissal of two of the state's top law-enforcement officials was appropriate.