Mark Keel, who was nominated by Gov. Mark Sanford last week to take over as head of the state Department of Public Safety, would inherit a troubled agency. But initial support from fellow law enforce-ment officials and state lawmakers bolsters hopes that he is the right man for the job.
Keel, if confirmed by the state Senate, would take over an agency tarnished by allegations of misconduct by state troopers. The controversy already has cost both James Schweitzer, head of DPS whom Keel would replace, and Highway Patrol commander Col. Russell Roark their jobs.
Those two men were forced out after failing to fire a white trooper who used a racial slur while threatening to kill a fleeing black suspect. Keel stated last week that any trooper who used a racial slur while on duty "won't be working for this agency any longer."
Other incidents have raised questions about the conduct of troopers. Two incidents, both caught on dashboard videotapes, showed questionable behavior, including troopers using their patrol cars to strike suspects fleeing on foot and another in which a trooper repeatedly kicked a suspect in the head after he had surrendered.
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Federal and state law enforcement authorities met last week to determine how the investigation of these incidents should proceed. The investigation could lead to criminal charges against troopers, outside monitoring of the agency and independent review of citizens' complaints.
Keel would be thrust into a difficult position as head of the troubled agency. But he would bring impressive credentials to the job. He is an attorney and a 28-year veteran of the State Law Enforcement Division, where he is one of two assistant directors. He had been the No. 2 person in the agency, serving as chief of staff and agency lawyer.
Keel has the strong support of the state's law enforcement community. Former SLED chief Robert Stewart, Keel's longtime boss, said Keel was involved with numerous SLED investigations of police misconduct over the years and "knows where the line is drawn."
Many state senators also have expressed their support, with some saying that Keel should have no trouble being confirmed. If so, we hope he lives up to the high regard in which he is held by many throughout the state.