Most of 500 complaints result in no penalty, report finds
COLUMBIA -- More than 500 complaints have been filed against S.C. state troopers since 2004, though two-thirds of the closed cases didn't result in any formal disciplinary action a review by The State newspaper found.
Over the past five years, 72 troopers, most of them white, were reprimanded, suspended, demoted or fired for various reasons, according to information provided to the newspaper by the S.C. Department of Public Safety under the state Freedom of Information Act.
The Highway Patrol has weathered a firestorm of criticism since dashboard-camera videos showing questionable trooper actions surfaced last month.
A survey by The State of internal affairs files from 2006 and 2007 found more than 70 troopers were accused of misconduct, ranging from:
• Having inappropriate MySpace pages;
• Being rude to drivers during traffic stops;
• Firing or using their weapons inappropriately; and
• Recklessly injuring or causing the death of motorists and others while responding to calls or during high-speed pursuits
Department of Public Safety spokesman Sid Gaulden said Wednesday the number of public complaints or agency-generated investigations against troopers represents a tiny fraction of about 2.5 million traffic stops and contacts statewide by troopers over the last four years.
But Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he doesn't trust those numbers.
"That's like a big-time drug dealer being asked to go into his own home and let SLED know if he found any drugs," he said.
Joel Sawyer, spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford, said that without more complete statistics, "it's just impossible for us to offer any kind of analysis" of the figures provided to The State.
Still, Sawyer said, "job No. 1" for the new department director whom Sanford has not yet nominated will be to ensure that "all stops and motorists are treated professionally."
Public Safety Director James Schweitzer and Highway Patrol commander Col. Russell Roark resigned under fire Feb. 29 after Sanford said they were too lenient on a white trooper shown on a videotape using a racial slur against a fleeing black suspect during a 2004 traffic stop in Greenwood County.
The U.S. attorney for South Carolina, the FBI, the Justice Department and the State Law Enforcement Division have launched investigations into possible civil rights violations.