David Watley, a veteran state trooper from Florence County, S.C., said he was stepping down from his post because the much-maligned leadership of the S.C. Department of Public Safety (SCDPS) is forcing him (and other troopers) to do their jobs “with one hand tied behind your back.”
“I’m turning in my letter of resignation,” an emotional Watley told the panel. “Because I cannot effectively do my job.”
Watley, a 29-year veteran of the Highway Patrol, then turned to embattled SCDPS director Leroy Smith and handed him his letter.
“I’m giving this to you, sir,” Watley said.
“Thank you,” Smith responded, taking the letter from Watley.
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According to Watley, his superiors targeted him for reprisal in the aftermath of his efforts to take a drunk driver off of the streets. Specifically, Watley was accused of mishandling evidence related to a DUI arrest – at which point he claims he was subjected to a witch hunt by the SCDPS’ office of professional responsibility.
That office has been accused previously of applying double standards in the administration of internal justice at this embattled agency.
Watley’s testimony provided a first-hand example of those alleged “double standards.” According to him, his five-month ordeal left him wondering whether SCDPS leadership was in the business of supporting troopers or supporting drunk drivers.
“They draw a line in the sand – and then they keep on moving the line,” he told lawmakers.
“We are disgruntled with the leadership of our agency,” Watley said, referring to Smith as a “vindictive” leader.
“The overwhelming majority of this agency is dissatisfied,” he added, asking state lawmakers to “please go out and ask people in your own counties.”
Watley’s testimony is consistent with the findings of a “limited” inquiry conducted by the S.C. Office of Inspector General (SCOIG). News of the SCOIG report – and a draft copy of the report itself – were both exclusively reported by this news site last month.
We also reportedly exclusively on a prior report released by the legislative oversight panel that blasted SCDPS for soaring traffic fatalities, lax law enforcement, misappropriation of public funds and poor recruitment (and retention) of officers.
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Under the “leadership” of Smith (above), morale and retention has been abysmal in the SCHP – the division of SCDPS responsible for enforcing South Carolina’s traffic laws.
This retention problem has led to chronic shortages within the SCHP – which are materially impacting public safety. Smith is hoping to rectify this problem (in the short-term, anyway) by rushing unprepared trainees into service.
We have opposed this “reform,” referring to it as “an ill-advised shortcut that will not only fail to address the SCHP’s long-term retention problem but also place the public (and troopers and trainees) at risk.”
Smith has been under fire all year. Members of the S.C. General Assembly have already gone on record calling for his resignation – which this news site has seconded. Unfortunately, S.C. governor Henry McMaster – who oversees this agency – has repeatedly failed to hold Smith accountable for his poor performance.
Watley said he originally wanted to provide his letter of resignation to McMaster, but was unable to do so.
McMaster staffer John McIntosh, formerly of the S.C. attorney general’s office, attended Monday’s committee hearing.
“He’s going to hear loud and clear what happened here,” state representative Gary Clary said after Watley’s testimony, once again urging the governor to “do the right thing.”
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