Crime & Courts

Is Mismanagement Putting Hampton County’s Safety At Risk?

Budget cuts could cripple law enforcement …

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In the aftermath of the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga, Hampton County residents hoped their tight-knit community would finally be able to move forward. Hopeful the spotlight that shone so harshly on their sleepy corner of the Palmetto State might move elsewhere. Hopeful they would be able to return to their normal routines.

Over the past year, though, it’s become apparent the financial mismanagement synonymous with Alex Murdaugh still haunts this quiet community. Specifically, Hampton County government continues to grapple with allegations of fraud, millions of dollars in missing or misspent funds and a habitual failure to report required financial information to the public.

After many delays which threatened state funding, a draft audit report for the fiscal year ending in 2023 was recently posted to the county website. That report came in the wake of two investigations into the county by the S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) – and reports of a former employee hacking into Hampton’s information technology system and deleting hundreds of emails.

As I reported earlier this week, the release of the draft audit has done nothing to assuage the concerns of citizens.

In fact, in assessing Hampton County’s most recent proposed budget, these concerns appear to be more valid than ever as widespread budget cuts – including alarming decreases in funding of the services they depend on most – are contained in the draft spending plan.

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Hampton

RELATED | WHY FREEDOM OF INFORMATION MATTERS

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“OPERATIONAL SETBACKS”…

The budget – which will be discussed in the upcoming county council meeting on June 17, 2024 – included $1.3 million in proposed cuts to public safety departments in Hampton County. Among the cuts being considered? An $850,000 cut to the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO). According to recent reports submitted by newly elected sheriff Anthony Russell, the law enforcement agency can ill afford such budgetary reductions.

A March 11, 2024 proposal submitted by Russell to state representative Bill Hager outlined a funding request for new vehicles. According to Russell, the county’s current fleet is “burdened by the wear of high mileage and the relentless toll of time.”

The department “has reached a juncture where its limitations not only hinder our deputies’ operational capabilities but also pose significant risks to their safety and that of the public,” Russell added.

Russell provided several examples of those “significant risks” in his proposal to Hager – including a February 16, 2024 incident which he said served as a “stark reminder of the urgent need for updated vehicles.”

According to Russell, HCSO deputies were dispatched to a “highly volatile situation involving threats to an individual’s life.” When deputies arrived, they found themselves facing a barrage of active gunfire from the residence which forced them to retreat into defensive positions to ensure their safety.

“After making his way back to his vehicle to move to another area of the property, the deputy’s vehicle failed to start,” Russell said. “This equipment malfunction not only endangered our deputy but also compromised our operational effectiveness in a life-threatening situation.”

As concerning as that incident was, according to Russell, it wasn’t isolated. He further cited an incident in which a deputy found herself stranded in Charleston, S.C. after transporting a victim of criminal sexual conduct to the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). After discovering her vehicle wouldn’t start, the deputy had to have the cruiser towed from Charleston back to Hampton.

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RELATED | SHERIFF’S OFFICE RESPONDS TO SHOOTING

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“CRITICAL CURRENT FLEET CONDITION …”

In his proposal, Russell outlined what he described as the “critical current condition” of the HCSO fleet, including vehicles which average more than 300,000 miles.

“This situation underscores not merely the wear and tear typical of extensive use but signifies a series of compounding challenges that deem these vehicles unfit for the demands of law enforcement duties,” Russell noted.

According to the sheriff, the “diminishing reliability” of police vehicles has resulted in increased instances of them breaking down – which he bluntly stated “can have dire consequences, including the loss of life or the failure to prevent crime.”

Older vehicles also lack many of the latest safety features and advancements of newer models, Russell added.

“This deficiency puts our deputies at greater risk of injury or death, especially when responding to high-risk situations or when involved in vehicle pursuits,” he said. “The introduction of new vehicles equipped with modem safety features is imperative to ensure the well-being of our officers.”

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Russell’s request for $952,000 in funding from the state for fifteen (15) vehicles was not approved leaving the department – and the officers in charge of protecting the citizens – dependent on the current failing fleet.

The reason for the denial of the request is not unknown (you can see some of the pork that was funded here), but given the county’s recent history of mismanaging funds – a rejection by the S.C. General Assembly was not unsurprising. Either way, the denial of this funding request – combined with the $850,000 proposed cut in county resources – concerns many citizens.

And given the rising lawlessness we are seeing in rural communities in the Palmetto State … it should.

As FITSNews continues to dig into the financial woes of the embattled county, we will continue to provide updates on our findings. Despite the county’s recent failure to respond to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for documents related to the county’s finances, this outlet remains dedicated to seeking transparency and accountability from both Hampton County as well as other government entities throughout the Palmetto State and beyond.

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THE PROPOSAL …

(Hampton County)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Jenn Wood (Provided)

Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at jenn@fitsnews.com.

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2 comments

Jaimee Rivers Top fan June 16, 2024 at 10:06 pm

Thank you for helping shine a light on the financial issues that jeopardize the safety of our county.

Reply
MaryContrary Top fan June 18, 2024 at 8:42 am

Thanks again Jenn for exposing the issues in Hampton County finances. The citizens deserve transparency and accountability from those in a fiduciary position. The Sheriff’s Department should have the equipment needed to perform their jobs. Finances should be closely monitored and allocated where needed most, not for things that do not benefit the citizens as a whole. This should be common sense. The voters need to take note!

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