Police Misconduct and South Carolina Sheriff Scandals
South Carolina has seen its share of scandal, and scandals involving sheriffs are commonplace within the state borders. This year, Sheriff Kenney Boone staged an arrest photo involving black suspects. Also, a former interim sheriff in Chesterfield County faces a lawsuit alleging he destroyed evidence related to the molestation of young boys by a former solicitor.
Last year, Sheriff James Metts of Lexington, S.C. was caught harboring illegal aliens. He served a year in federal prison. Sheriff Michal L. Johnson was also caught last year providing fake police reports to a “credit repairman” in South Carolina. In December 2014, Berekley County’s Wayne DeWitt was arrested for driving under the influence and fleeing the scene of a car crash near Goose Creek, South Carolina. All of these sheriffs lost their jobs.
In Dorchester County, South Carolina, Sheriff L.C. Knight has been fixing tickets for several of his friends and friends of his family members. Allegedly, Knight has dismissed over a dozen tickets, including an open container citation that the officer involved in the stop indicated could have easily resulted in an arrest for driving under the influence (DUI). This open container citation included the following note: “Req. dismissed by Sheriff. Friend of wife. Could have been a DUI. Cold beer in trunk. Per Sheriff- Dismissed.”
“Ticket fixing” is best described as a public official destroying or dismissing a pending traffic ticket as a favor to a friend or family member. Unfortunately, both police officers and judges have been accused of this practice. Some police officers see it as a “professional courtesy” extended to friends and relatives of police officers. The practice, however, remains unpopular with the general public.
So what is going on?
Many of the sheriffs getting caught in these scandals reside in poor, rural regions of South Carolina. Therefore, there is very little media scrutiny over their actions because small-town newspapers would generally rather ignore incriminating information than pick a fight with the most powerful public official in their area.
Police Misconduct has featured heavily in the media lately. In 2009, the CATO Institute released statistics on Police Misconduct, and determined that 1 in 4.7 police officers may be implicated in an act of misconduct over the course of their career.
A person can submit a written, or in some jurisdictions a verbal, complaint to the administration of a law enforcement agency against an employee he or she thinks is involved in misconduct. The complaint is then investigated and a disciplinary hearing is held. Finally, a decision is rendered regarding the allegation of misconduct. The case can be settled in one of four ways:
- Sustained- The allegation is proven by evidence
- Unfounded- The allegation is false and the alleged incident did not occur
- Not Sustained- There is not enough information to prove or disprove the allegation
- Exonerated- The incident occurred; however, the officer involved acted lawfully and properly
Law enforcement remains important to the community because it ensures public safety and encourages a bond of public trust between the police force and the citizens. Police misconduct hurts that public trust. When the public trust is wounded, it unfortunately then becomes increasingly difficult for citizens to view law enforcement in a positive light.