Chester Co. investigating after animal control employee involved in crash rehired

Chester County council members Wednesday voted unanimously to set up a committee to hire outside counsel to investigate a personnel matter at the Chester County Animal Care and Enforcement Office.

Council met in executive session for about 45 minutes Wednesday night before opening the special called meeting back to the public.

Three council members -- Pete Wilson, Joe Branhum and Mike Vaughn -- were chosen to sit on the committee to hire outside counsel.

County Attorney Joanie Winters recused herself from the investigation because she reports directly to County Supervisor Shane Stuart.

Stuart on Monday rehired a county employee at the Animal Care and Enforcement Office.

Stuart originally hired Ace Hembree as Animal Care and Enforcement Office supervisor when control over the office shifted last year from the Chester County Sheriff’s Office to the county supervisor.

Hembree was one of two employees who applied for the vacant position, Stuart said, and Hembree was most qualified.

According to Council minutes, an April 29 car wreck involved an animal care and enforcement office employee.

According to the South Carolina Highway Patrol report, Hembree was driving a Chester County vehicle in the parking lot of 1781 J A Cochran Bypass on April 29. At approximately 8:37 p.m., Hembree backed into a park, unoccupied vehicle. Troopers said Hembree was never charged.

Council previously questioned whether protocol was followed after the crash. At the June 3 Council meeting, Stuart said the employee resigned. Hembree was rehired Monday so Council is again addressing the issue.

“I would hope they would do an investigation of all the events that took place up to and after the accident,” councilman Alex Oliphant said.

Hembree has federal and state criminal records. Hembree was convicted in federal court of being under the influence of alcohol to a degree that endangers others, public disorderly conduct, and creating a hazardous or physically offensive condition following an incident at a federal park in 2015.

According to the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, Hembree was on probation from 2008 to 2013 for possession of meth or cocaine, and again from 2014 to 2015 for distribution of meth.

Hembree also has a pending drug charge in Chester County, according to state court records.

“Chester County has hired people with criminal records in the past,” Stuart said Wednesday before the meeting. “One of them has a nonviolent, drug record that doesn’t really hurt a lot of people. I know that can rub people the wrong way but at what point do we not give somebody a second chance.”

Stuart said the special-called meeting was politically motivated.

“It’s sad that some people want to play politics, and we’re not here to play politics with someone’s career,” Stuart said.

Oliphant said the meeting and hiring outside counsel is about transparency.

“Citizens have a right to know what’s going on in their government. With all the events that have transpired everybody has the right to know,” Oliphant said.

Related stories from Rock Hill Herald