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Pine Ridge interim police chief defends department’s handling of evidence, other sensitive informati

Pine Ridge, SC (Paul Kirby) – In one of his first acts after officially being sworn in as the interim police chief of the town of Pine Ridge Tuesday night, Frankie Neeley took time from his monthly police report to answer charges made by a departing officer about how the town handles evidence and sensitive information. He was reading from what appeared to be a prepared statement when he told the council that the department’s procedures would prevent anyone except himself and his newly sworn in lieutenant from accessing anything that might compromise a criminal case.

Last month, Patrolman Dale Brown questioned the way that things were handled at the department regarding the security of evidence and footage from body cameras and in-car dash-cams. In his statement to The Lexington Ledger, Brown said he had personally seen Mayor Robert Wells in both the old and new police department evidence rooms. He had also witnessed Wells in the room that houses the police department’s computer servers that house sensitive information. Brown said that at one point just after another chief departed, Wells had asked him to look through camera footage for something that may have been recorded by a body camera or an in-car dash-cam that the mayor was concerned might be made public. He, like several of the five other officers who left or were terminated in the past 13 months, claimed that the mayor caused Pine Ridge’s workplace for police officers to be toxic and hostile. Brown laid the blame for that clearly at the feet of the mayor who has been accused of meddling in the department’s daily operations by several officers and former chiefs. The mayor and town were unable to answer Brown’s charges at the time because they are currently involved in litigation regarding the operations of the police department.

Neeley said Tuesday that evidence in Pine Ridge was not readily accessible by anyone but he and Lt. Silano who just recently came to the department and was sworn in Tuesday night as well. Neeley said that besides the department’s evidence being kept in a specific room, it was further kept in a “secure wall-locker,” that stayed locked. Neeley said that would prevent anyone from accessing the items kept there. He also said that only he and the lieutenant had access to the keys to that locker. Neeley also said that the computer server that kept sensitive information was password protected and only he and the lieutenant knew the password. More specifically, Neeley pointed out that Mayor Wells, acting as the police commissioner, did not have a way of accessing these sensitive areas or information. He did say that there was one box of evidence that pertained to cases that had already been adjudicated that was not secure in an evidence room. Neeley said in that instance, a former chief had planned to use those items in a display and that since the case(s) had already been disposed of, access to those items didn’t jeopardize anything.

Neeley, who works full-time for the SC National Guard, has been acting as the department’s chief on a part-time basis since shortly after former Police Chief Nicholas Scott left the department, citing a hostile work environment. Neeley had been with the department in a part-time role for years while working with the guard. It was unclear why the town waited to swear him in as interim chief until last night because he had been acting in that role for some months. Whatever the reason, Neeley is very familiar with the department and the town after having assisted in policing it for years.

In Neeley’s police report for November, he told the council that the department had answered 20 calls for service that had come through the county’s dispatch center. He also said that officers had written 18 uniform traffic citations and issued some warnings as well.

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