More details surface about complaint made against former Pine Ridge Police Chief Keith Parks
Pine Ridge, SC (Paul Kirby) 11/20/2020 - Additional information is coming to light about why former Pine Ridge Police Chief Keith Parks resigned from his new position as chief with the City of Marion Police Department this week. Parks held his job with Marion just six weeks before resigning after a report regarding misconduct made by Mayor Robert Wells of Pine Ridge surfaced against him.
Prior to hiring Parks from the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office in October, the City of Marion did its due diligence in looking into Parks’ background. In an explanation of Parks’ resignation, the city of Marion wrote, “Officials from the City of Marion and the Marion Police Department contacted the SCCJA (South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy) in September, prior to hiring Parks. At that time, Parks was in good standing with the Academy. In addition to the SCCJA, the Marion Police Department contacted Parks’ previous employer and City officials spoke with references who knew Parks both personally and professionally. There were no red flags, indications, or allegations of misconduct from the persons or agencies providing references.”
The reason that the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy (SCCJA) notified the City of Marion about the allegations six months after Parks left Pine Ridge is because Mayor Robert Wells, the one who submitted the misconduct charges against Parks, didn’t do so until October 30th of this year. A report of why a certified police officer leaves a position with a department is supposed to be filed with the SCCJA within 15 days of an officer leaving an agency. This is mandated by law and was meant to protect other law enforcement agencies from unknowingly hiring a certified officer with an unrecorded history of misconduct. Years ago, officers with misconduct records would resign from one department under pressure, move to another department and area, and accept a new position without ever revealing problems with their previous employers. There was no central database to check and departments often offered to give an officer a good reference if they would agree to resign quietly and leave without filing a grievance.
WACH Fox News reported Thursday afternoon that they had contacted the SCCJA to learn what Parks had been accused of by Pine Ridge’s Mayor Wells. In his report of misconduct, Wells wrote that former Chief Parks wrote on his application that he was not facing any criminal investigations nor charges. Wells wrote:
Mr. Parks indicated on his employment application that:
1) He had never been the subject of an internal investigation which is not true based on his termination from the Lexington PD as a result of an internal investigation.
2) He had never been disciplined, which is not true. Mr. Parks lost the privilege of driving a town vehicle for policy violations at the Town of Estill.
3) He had never violated any policy or procedures, which is not true. Mr. Parks violated policies or procedures at both the Lexington PD and the Estill PD.
WACH Fox News also spoke with Jack Swindler, the director of the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy about how agencies can use their records to determine if someone is eligible for hire. Swindler said if asked, “Our response would be yes or no based on whether there is an allegation of misconduct. If you seek employment records here which is available, then one could see how many different agencies a person had worked and under what circumstances they’d left.”
Mayor Wells submitted his report to the SCCJA 17 days after the resignation of the last two Pine Ridge interim police chiefs who both notified the town of their resignations on the same night. Those resignations set off a communitywide outcry and protest. Judy Cooper, a resident of Pine Ridge, was involved in the planning of some of those protests. “If Parks’ character was in question, why would the mayor wait six months to report that? Why would you do that to another department like the City of Marion? I’m sure they spent a great deal of time searching for and interviewing candidates before hiring Parks. It looks as if they checked the background of the candidates they were interested in. Wouldn't that time and the checks cost something? Maybe Marion has the right to be compensated for their trouble.”
According to a Pine Ridge official, Wells had also asked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to look into Parks’ conduct at the PRPD. SLED has closed its investigation into that conduct. One community resident suggested that when SLED took no action as Wells has hoped, he then turned in the allegations to the SCCJA as a vindictive act against Parks. She did make it clear that she was simply speculating but it seemed to look that way.
WACH Fox News was able to contact Pine Ridge Councilwoman Beth Spires Sturkie Thursday. She told them, “I just hate that the (Marion) community is not going to get to know him like we did here in Pine Ridge.” When contacted by The Lexington Ledger, Sturkie said that the community felt unsafe since there has been no police officers patrolling. She was referring in part to a video that surfaced last week showing a muscle car doing a “brake stand” which spun its tires creating a cloud of dust and smoke before speeding off through the quiet residential area known as Arborgate. That behavior went unnoticed by any law enforcement agency. One resident did dial 911 to report it but the residents of Arborgate didn't believe any arrest or citations were made.
WACH’s FOX News sister station WPDE in Myrtle Beach and Florence also ran this story.
Car in Arborgate video: Video is in slow motion in some video players due to file format.