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Pine Ridge interim police chief resigns, cites mayor’s vendetta and meddling in department again

Pine Ridge, SC (Paul Kirby) - The Town of Pine Ridge could soon find itself without a police department again after its only full-time employee turned in his two-week notice at the town council meeting Tuesday night.  Lt. Vincent Silano, who had been serving as the interim chief, publicly cited the mayor's meddling in the department’s daily operations as one of the reasons he decided to leave his position with the town. According to a police consultant we spoke with immediately after Silano's resignation, unless Pine Ridge appoints an interim chief quickly, they will cease to have a police department once again.

Silano is not the first police chief to accuse the mayor of micromanaging the department. In the three years since Robert Wells was first elected mayor and immediately appointed himself police commissioner, the town will have gone through at least five interim or full-time police chiefs with Silano’s departure. Several former employees have filed lawsuits against the town alleging a hostile work environment or unfair practices that most blamed on the mayor and his constant meddling in the police department’s operations. 

Several others have accused the mayor of crossing a fine legal line by having access to areas where sensitive evidence and records are stored. Although Wells has flatly denied this charge before, several former chiefs have confirmed that this has happened. One said during a recent telephone interview that if Wells said he didn’t have access to the evidence room that was, “a lie!” “I would come to work and find the door open to the evidence room and ask what was going on. He would tell me they had been in there doing maintenance or give some other excuse as to why our evidence area was unsecured. This is in fact illegal and jeopardizes every case that has evidence for its prosecution stored in that room.”

That former chief went on to say that Wells also had the keys to everything at the town hall and the police department. “He had keys to my office and access to everything. I would come to work, and our unmarked car would be missing. When I asked where it was, I was told it was being used by the mayor or the town clerk to run errands. It was hard for me to understand how it was okay for the police chief not to know where all of the department's assets were at any given time. That vehicle was equipped with the full police package including lights, siren and radar. I'd like to believe that they were just running errands but how do you really know what was going on.”  

Lieutenant Silano said that a major factor in his decision to resign stems from a memo dated September 22, 2020 concerning his work and patrol schedule. That memo was penned by Mayor Robert Wells in his capacity as Pine Ridge’s police commissioner. In it, Wells dictated a ridged work schedule that Silano says doesn’t take into account the needs of all the citizens of the town. 

The memo directed Silano to be at work from 7:00 a.m. until4:00 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday of each week. During certain periods during his work day, he was supposed to focus solely on the safety of the town’s school children that might walk to and from schools through Pine Ridge’s School Zones. Since Wednesday is considered a virtual learning day for District Two students, Silano was given permission by the mayor to attend to other duties associated with his job during that time. 

On the surface this directive may seem to make perfect sense. Certainly, school children should all feel safe while in the school zones. Still, the question remains what about the other citizens of Pine Ridge? The memo has no clear provision for what Silano should do if a call for service from any other citizen of the town comes in during the ridged periods that the mayor has mandated that the interim chief work the school zones. It also doesn’t take into account any statistical data on when crimes occur. This data is most often used by police chiefs to schedule patrols when most of the crimes occur in a jurisdiction. Keep in mind that Pine Ridge doesn’t have the luxury of having multiple officers on patrol at any given time. If Silano has to work a ridged day shift schedule, who will be on patrol at nights or on the weekends when an impaired driver is on the streets or a criminal is intent on preying on the citizens under the cover of darkness? Certainly, Pine Ridge does use some part-time officers on occasion, but for the most part, Lt. Silano was the staff of the Pine Ridge Police Department!

In order to ensure that Lt. Silano is focused on those school zones, the mayor also suspended the department’s successful K-9 program. The town had invested approximately $16,000 in equipment for one of its cruisers in the past few years for that program. The K-9, Rens, belongs to Lt. Silano and came certified and ready to work. Silano and Rens maintain a record of catches and detections that is far above the national average for K-9s. The value of such an animal is usually in excess of $15,000 but because Rens came as a package deal with the lieutenant, Pine Ridge had the services of the dog for free. They simply had to pay for food and any medical expenses that Rens may incur. 

Lt. Silano wrote a letter to the entire town council of Pine Ridge recently appealing to them to reinstate the K-9 program after Wells suspended it. He said that in order for the K-9 to remain proficient, he needed to work regularly. Silano said that he had made the K-9 program one of three conditions he insisted upon prior to accepting the interim police chief’s job. The other two were that he would have the ability to set the part-time officers schedules and he be allowed a certain period to become more proficient in his administrative skills. Lt. Silano says the mayor agreed to these conditions before he ever accepted the job as interim police chief and now was breaking his word.  

Silano also said recently that he did work the school zones regularly and tried to show the mayor citations he had written in those areas as proof of his dedication to keeping children safe. “The mayor showed no interest in those and instead wrote the memo and suspended the K-9 program.” In that memo, the mayor said that he was suspending the K-9 program for Silano to work the school zones and to, “Better ensure your availability and attention to this priority.”  

Lt. Silano said that the mayor had been micromanaging the department again as others had accused before. In the September 22nd memorandum, the mayor even directed exactly what actions Silano, a state certified officer, should take while working those zones. “He went so far as to spell out specific duties and listed them for me. He said I was to detain speeders, ensure no improper turns, ensure the orderly flow of traffic, and other things. Why did he ever trust me with the title of interim chief if he didn’t think I knew how to enforce general traffic laws without him spelling them out?” 

Silano said that the mayor’s memo came out only after a neighbor of his had a lawnmower stolen and a vehicle broken into. There was a firearm taken during the car break-in. According to Silano, there was some video footage of the break-in available that the mayor had reviewed when he called and told him to respond to the neighbor’s home. “I told the mayor that I would come and look at the video and he gave me a description of the suspect over the phone. I didn’t completely drop what I was doing and rush around there because the crime hadn’t just occurred. I truly believe that the mayor got angry that I didn’t jump when he called.” Instead of allowing the chief to handle those crimes, Wells called the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department and asked that they take over the investigation according to Silano. “I was told that the sheriff’s department never opened a case on those,” Silano said.  

The complaints that Silano voiced are not new. Each chief that has come and gone has registered the exact type of complaints over and over against Mayor Wells. Each has said that Wells has been completely overbearing and had too much control over even the smallest detail of the department’s operation. Several have also said that Wells was willing to forego the safety of every other resident of the town as long as he and his select neighbors got the majority of the attention of the department. Two former chiefs said that Wells wanted them to work his street enforcing speed regulations no matter what else was going on. 

A law enforcement officer who has already retired twice from other positions and now acts as an expert consultant for other departments across the United States said Tuesday that what was happening in Pine Ridge was sad. “That little community used to have a certain level of respect among the smaller departments around. Since Wells has become the mayor, its reputation has taken a major nosedive. It’s become known as a place a person goes if they want to kiss their career goodbye. They will probably eventually find some smart, well-educated, young guy with lots of energy to take the chief’s position there with the false belief that he’ll be the one to fix the problems. He’ll walk in with good ideas and lots of energy and in a very short time, he’ll come to the realization that he’s not the chief. He’s simply there to act as a puppet of a mayor who has way too much time on his hands and thinks in his own mind that he’s the chief of police. The longer he stays the longer he’ll realize that he’s getting closer and closer to making a compromise that will put him on the wrong side of the law himself if he continues to watch and knows what’s going on over there but takes no action to intercede.” Our expert concluded by saying, “Just knowing that laws and procedures are being broken and doing nothing makes you as guilty as if you are a willing participant. Five chiefs or interims have now come and gone in just three years. The one common denominator has been Mayor Wells. At some point it would seem as if the other elected leaders of Pine Ridge and its citizens would realize that and stand up to the man. He’s just one vote. If just a simple majority of the other leaders will do their jobs, they would end his playing police chief and he could be stopped!”    


See Lt. Silano's resignation letter by clicking below.

2020-10-13 16-10
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