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Another Pine Ridge police officer resigns, cites “unhappy” work environment, mayor’s meddling

Pine Ridge, SC (Paul Kirby) – Pine Ridge Police Officer Dale Brown has resigned and accepted another job in Jacksonville, Florida. Brown said that a key factor in his resignation was the fact that he was unhappy with the working conditions in Pine Ridge. He was quick to add that he wasn’t unhappy with the police chief or his operations and policies, but the meddling of Mayor Robert Wells in the day-to-day operation of the small-town department. Brown said he asked to discuss his feelings regarding the actions of the mayor, who is also the self-appointed police commissioner, with the entire town council, but they denied his request and instead referred him back to the chief. Brown says that although the chief is fair and well qualified to run the department, he has little control over its operations because of the mayor’s micro-managing.

Brown had been a part-time officer with Pine Ridge for a number of years. In late June or early July of 2018, he left his previous job and went full-time with Pine Ridge because he loved being a police officer according to Brown. “I love Pine Ridge and its citizens,” Brown said. “I went way above and beyond for the town because the citizens deserve that and that’s the kind of person I am. Brown said that he was switched from night to day shift so that he could run the operations of the department when the part-time police chief was serving in his duties with the SC National Guard. “I really enjoyed what I did when I was allowed to do what police officers are supposed to do. I tried to be fair and understanding, even when I had to pull someone over. The problem is, there is no line between the town hall and police department. Mayor Wells has way too much involvement with police operations and that’s just not the way things are supposed to be run. He needs to pull back his participation in the day-to-day of the department and just have general oversight. He needs to let the certified police officers police.” Brown said that any problems with how he was treated at Pine Ridge could have easily been worked out with the chief if the mayor hadn’t been such a factor.

Brown cited as an example several instances where he personally saw the mayor in the locked room that houses all the police department’s computer servers. These servers contain all the footage from the department’s in car and officers’ body cameras. Brown said that once someone accessed that room, the police evidence room was adjoining and unlocked. The only protection of the evidence was the locked door to the server room. “There is a spare set of keys to everything,” Brown said. “A town employee has those, and the mayor can and does get them. Once he has the keys, he can access the cars, the stored camera footage, and all the evidence stored for pending cases.” Brown said that he knows how wrong this is and despite his love for the town and department, he simply couldn’t ignore things that he knew were wrong. He said that even if the data were protected by passwords, the look of impropriety was there. “Access to those rooms should be strictly limited,” Brown concluded.

Since that time, the evidence room has been relocated to the building that is behind the town hall. Brown said that he had personally seen the mayor in the new evidence room without an officer accompanying him.

Brown also said that the mayor had once directed him to search the police servers for a video that was rumored to have been made by a former police chief that involved a confrontation with the mayor. “The mayor was extremely worried that he had been recorded and was concerned about that video and what was on it.” Brown said that he had not located any video of an exchange between the mayor and former chief. Pine Ridge is on its third police chief in 12 months and has had six certified police officers either quit or be fired during that same period. They now have one full-time lieutenant who was hired last week who had worked for the City of Cayce prior to coming to Pine Ridge.

A police department expert that The Ledger consulted said that anyone that is not a certified police officer should never have access to a department’s evidence room. Even certified officers should have a good reason to be in that room. They should sign out the specific evidence they’re handling and not anything else. He said that the mere fact that a civilian, even if he is the mayor or holds the title of police commissioner, and is not a certified officer, could interrupt and endanger the chain of custody of evidence if he enters the place where evidence is stored. “Every piece of evidence in that room could be tainted because there’s no way of knowing if anything was touched, altered, or in any other way compromised. It could jeopardize every pending case the department has.”

Another expert said that this could be a violation of the law and certainly NCIC standards. NCIC is the national system that indexes criminal justice information such as criminal record history information, fugitives, stolen properties, missing persons, and other important facts. It is available to Federal, state, and local law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies and is operational 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

A police consultant with over three decades of experience in law enforcement said this situation could easily be fixed if the mayor would simply stay within his realm as mayor and let the police department stand alone with limited oversight. “The town needs to hire a qualified police chief and he needs to be able to stand up to the political pressure the mayor or anyone else that meddles in the operations of the department. Until that strong leader is hired, it sounds as if the town’s department will continue to be a mess, not because of the chief, but the mayor’s problematic participation in things he shouldn’t be involved in.”

The town is currently involved in at least one lawsuit brought by a former officer and would be advised not to comment to the press regarding police department matters.

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