Why was an Atlantic Beach Police Officer Rehired by Three Police Departments While Under Investigation for Sexual Exploitation of a Minor?

An Atlantic Beach Police Officer was fired on January 3 – the day after he was arrested and charged with crimes that were allegedly committed while he worked for the Pickens Police Department.

On January 2, he was arrested by US Marshals on warrants charging him with misconduct in office, solicitation of a minor, three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, all of which allegedly occurred while he was employed as a Pickens, SC police officer.

After he was fired from the Pickens Police Department, and while he was apparently under investigation by SLED, he was hired and fired by three more police departments – Georgetown Police Department, Andrews Police Department, and then the Atlantic Beach Police Department.

Didn’t South Carolina just pass a law to prevent this? Did the Pickens, Georgetown, and Andrews police chiefs break the law by not reporting the officer’s misconduct?

How did Georgetown, Andrews, and Atlantic Beach not discover the fact that they were hiring a police officer who was under investigation for sexual exploitation of a minor? They are police departments, right – they are trained to investigate? Doesn’t it make sense to do some investigation of applicants before giving them a badge, a gun, and authority to represent your department and your town?

H4479: Allegations of Misconduct was Signed into Law May 18, 2018

If only the SC legislature would pass a law requiring police chiefs to report misconduct when they fire an officer… wait, they did that.

H4479 was passed by the SC House and Senate last year, and the governor signed it on May 18, 2018.

The portion of H4479 that deals with reporting of allegations of officer misconduct can now be found in SC Code Section 23-23-150. What does it say?

Police Chiefs Must Report Officer Misconduct to the Criminal Justice Academy

Believe it or not (you should if you’ve paid attention to the number of “bad cops” that are rehired by SC law enforcement agencies across the state), before May of 2018, SC law did not require police chiefs or sheriffs to report misconduct when they terminated an officer’s employment.

Now it does:

(B) The sheriff or the chief executive officer of a law enforcement agency or department within the State must report to the academy the occurrence of any act or multiple acts of misconduct by a law enforcement officer which could result in the withdrawal of the certification of the law enforcement officer who is currently or was last employed by his agency. The report shall be made within fifteen days of the final agency or department action resulting from the internal investigation conducted by the agency or department, and shall be on a form prescribed by the council. A wilful failure to report information related to acts of misconduct shall subject the violator to a civil penalty as provided by the council.

There is no discretion in this law – note the use of the mandatory language, “must report.” Not “can report” or “may report.”

A chief of police – say, for example, the chief of police in Pickens, Georgetown, or Andrews – must report misconduct that could result in decertification. They must report it within fifteen days of the department’s final action.

What kind of actions could result in withdrawal of your law enforcement certification? I don’t know, probably things like:

  • Misconduct in office;
  • Solicitation of a minor;
  • Contributing to the delinquency of a minor; or
  • Sexual exploitation of a minor?

Of course, the former Atlantic Beach police officer has not been convicted of those charges at this point – he was just arrested a couple of weeks ago. What else is considered misconduct that must be reported under the new law?

What Types of Police Misconduct Must be Reported by a Police Department?

Section 23-23-150 lists specific types of police misconduct that a chief of police must report to the Criminal Justice Academy:

  • A conviction or admission of guilt for a crime that is: 1) a felony; 2) punishable by more than a year; or 3) a crime of moral turpitude (a crime that involves lying or dishonesty – moral turpitude is a term that isn’t even used in SC criminal courts anymore…);
  • Unlawful use of a controlled substance;
  • Repeated use of excessive force;
  • Dangerous or unsafe practices involving firearms, weapons, or vehicles;
  • Physical or psychological abuse;
  • Misrepresentation of employment-related information;
  • Willfully making false, misleading, incomplete, deceitful, or incorrect statements to a law enforcement officer;
  • Willfully making false, misleading, incomplete, deceitful, or incorrect statements to any court of competent jurisdiction, or their staff members, whether under oath or not;
  • Willfully providing false, misleading, incomplete, deceitful, or incorrect information on a document, record, report, or form;
  • Falsification of any application for certification and training; and
  • Providing false information to the Criminal Justice Academy.

Ironically, the fact that an officer is under investigation for sexual exploitation of a minor doesn’t necessarily trigger the mandatory reporting requirement…

Was This Officer’s Conduct Subject to the Mandatory Reporting Requirement?

What would have triggered the mandatory reporting requirement for the Pickens-Georgetown-Andrews-Atlantic Beach police officer?

Did he misrepresent employment-related information at any of the three police departments who hired him after Pickens let him go? Did he make false, misleading, incomplete, deceitful, or incorrect information on a document, record, report, or form when he was applying for jobs at any of those three police departments? Did he make false, misleading, deceitful, or incorrect statements to law enforcement officers at any of those three police departments?

Considering the speed in which he was terminated after he was hired by Georgetown, Andrews, and then Atlantic Beach, it seems likely.

The Atlantic Beach police chief says that he was not aware of the SLED investigation when he hired the officer – surely, they asked the officer some question at some point during the hiring process that would have covered this?

A report in the Criminal Justice Academy’s file says that Georgetown terminated him due to “supplemental information obtained after a background investigation.” Presumably, supplemental information that the officer did not disclose during the hiring process?

Pickens Police Department suspended the officer without pay for “conduct unbecoming of a police officer.” They later changed the offense to “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” They then changed it again to reflect only that he “violated an order of the department,” before firing him.

This practice of discovering misconduct and then covering it up before firing an officer is why so many bad cops get rehired at other departments and continue their misconduct. Departments leave no paper trail and no red flags for other police departments, either because 1) they are protecting the officer; or 2) they are protecting themselves from potential litigation.

Isn’t this what SC Code Section 23-23-150 was designed to prevent?

Should the Police Chiefs Have Reported the Officer’s Misconduct?

The law went into effect May 18, 2018. The officer was terminated from Pickens Police Department at some point in May of 2018. Was the chief required to report? Maybe. Should he have?

The officer worked at the Andrews Police Department from June of 2018 until October of 2018 and was terminated five months after the law was passed. Was he terminated based on false, misleading, incomplete, deceitful, or incorrect information he provided during his hiring process? Was the Andrews police chief required to report his misconduct?

He worked at the Georgetown Police Department for one day in October 2018 – why was he terminated after one day on the job? Was it based on false, misleading, incomplete, deceitful, or incorrect information he provided during his hiring process? Was the Georgetown police chief required to report his misconduct?

Who is enforcing the mandatory reporting requirement in Section 23-23-150?

Are at least three police chiefs getting away with ignoring the new law? If no one is enforcing the law, it is worthless.

On the other hand, if they were not required to report under these facts, the law is still worthless…

SC Criminal Defense Lawyer in Columbia, Lexington, and Myrtle Beach SC

Lacey Thompson is a criminal defense attorney with offices in Columbia and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime in SC, or if you believe you are under investigation, call us now at 843-444-6122 or send a message through our website to talk with a SC criminal defense lawyer today.

atlantic beach police officer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *