Benjamin says Randolph charges shouldn’t be dropped, and Wilson shouldn’t have run to the scene

The mayor, (rightly) injecting some politics into policing in Five Points, back in September 2012.

The mayor, (rightly) injecting some politics into policing in Five Points, back in September 2012.

I thought this was an interesting thing for a major running for re-election to do. He sent out a release weighing in on a controversial recent arrest by the city’s police department:

Keep Politics Out of Policing

July 24, 2013, Columbia, SC

Dear friends,

As you know, public safety has and continues to be my top priority in the City of Columbia and, while we’ve made real progress over the past several years, a number of recent high-profile incidents have further demonstrated the need for continued focus and action.

It is for that reason and because we must ensure the public’s trust in our police department, that last week I called for a SLED investigation into claims made against the Columbia Police Department and I firmly believe that we must allow that investigation to proceed without any political interference. Our state’s law enforcement officers are very capable of conducting a thorough investigation. I am confident that they will perform their duties objectively and comprehensively and provide us with a full report to act upon. Furthermore I will make absolutely certain that whatever SLED reports will be transparent and fully disclosed to the public.

Let me be clear: I have no tolerance for corruption of any kind and if there is any wrongdoing found as a result of SLED’s investigation, I will push for any wrongdoers to be immediately fired and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

It is extremely important that we remove politics from this equation. We must let the cops do their jobs without interference. That is a key concern of mine with this investigation as well as with the issue of Dr. Lonnie Randolph’s arrest in Five Points.

Out of concern for Dr. Randolph and out of concern for our criminal justice system, I am strongly recommending Dr. Randolph’s charges not be dropped before the case reaches the courtroom.

Dr. Randolph appears to have a medical condition that influences his behavior beyond his control and, if so, he has my deepest concerns and sympathies. But we must let the legal process unfold like it does for any other citizen. It is up to a judge or a jury, with the victims’ input, to decide the end result, not politicians, police chiefs or administrators.

Dr. Randolph’s arrest demonstrated why we should not have administrators or elected officials showing up at crime scenes unless specifically requested by law enforcement. However well intentioned, it can send the wrong message and can create an appearance of impropriety and it needs to stop now. People must know that the criminal justice system works the same for all of us and does so without political interference and without special treatment for anyone. Justice for all requires special favors for none.

That’s why I’ve asked city legal counsel to draft a policy which I will present at our next City Council meeting clearly stating that, in accordance with our ethics policy, an active crime scene is no place for politicians or administrators.

At that same meeting, I will also push for us to move forward with a comprehensive, nationwide search for a permanent Police Chief. It’s time to bring stability to CPD’s leadership.

I believe a lot of these issues would be easy to resolve if, in fact, the Mayor had the authority to resolve them.

As Mayor, I have used the bully pulpit provided this office to push for much needed change and often been successful in doing so. That’s how we passed our local preference policy and kept tens of millions of dollars in city contracts with local businesses, that’s how we got the Bull Street deal done and that’s how we’ve achieved the rebirth of downtown securing roughly $300 million in new capital investment over the past two years alone.

But it’s important to understand that I have very little administrative authority under our current form of government. Here in Columbia, the Mayor does not supervise city staff, the City Manager or the Police Chief. And when we are faced with challenges like these which require swift and decisive action, all I have is one of seven votes on City Council and the long slow process that goes with it. That is the simple fact of our system, a fact that we need to change.

That being said, I will continue to use those tools afforded me to keep pushing for a safer and more secure Columbia. That is my priority, it is the people’s priority and nothing is more important.

As always, thank you for keeping informed, getting involved and making a difference in our city.
Yours in service,

Steve Benjamin
City of Columbia, South Carolina

This may seem kind of weird to those who don’t understand the city’s council/manager system of government.

In a more logical and politically accountable system of government, the mayor wouldn’t be a helpless witness to the actions of the city’s administrators. He wouldn’t have to propose policy changes to be voted upon by the whole council; he could just tell his manager (or chief of staff, or whatever his senior appointed subordinate was called) not to do that anymore.

Contrary to the mayor’s headline, I think we need more politics in policing, in the sense that the department should report to an official elected by the people of the city, rather than to an unelected person who, since she has seven bosses, really answers to no one.

Anyway, I thought it interesting that the mayor chose to speak out in this manner.

24 thoughts on “Benjamin says Randolph charges shouldn’t be dropped, and Wilson shouldn’t have run to the scene

  1. Barry

    Of course Ms. Wilson shouldn’t have been on the scene. That’s common sense. It never made any sense at all unless Mr. Randolph was an employee of hers that she oversees. I don’t think anyone believes that’s the case.

    Apparently the only person that was willing to say anything about it publically is the mayor.

    I have no problem with the charges being dropped. However, the chief shouldn’t be the one announcing that publically unless he makes it a practice to announce those things publically. No one believes he does – because he doesn’t.

    It’s up to the solicitor to decide that sort of thing after the police have arrested someone.

    For example, in Florida this past week a UF football player was arrested for barking at a police dog. The local prosecutor decided to drop the charges because he believed the police officer should have simply issued a warning.

  2. Mark Stewart

    Left unsaid was why she most likely showed up on the scene – because she was going to have to report to seven little princes and princesses. Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t. Still, an amateur move…

    1. Barry

      Agree. Anyone in her position should have known that it would look awful to show up there.

      In fact, I use to work for a state agency- and my supervisor would never go with me on the more high profile visits. He was required to go out with me from time to time but would purposefully pick the most routine, mundane sites to visit with me. He simply didn’t want things to look funny to anyone. He had experience and common sense.

      1. Barry

        and I’ll add- one of my more experienced co-workers told me once (when I worked for the state agency) that he had a VIP (he never told me the name) try to influence him one time when was making a regulatory type visit.

        After listening to the VIP talk and try to sway him, my friend (coworker) pulled the VIP off to the side to talk to him in private and told him “I’ll do you a big favor. I’ll make you a promise. I am going to treat you just like I treat everyone else. Is that a deal?”

        He said the VIP simply agreed and figured out it was better to just ride the process out.

        1. Silence

          Barry, I have had the same thing happen to me – where a VIP (statewide elected official) wanted a favor.

          1. Barry

            It happens.

            I was lucky to work for a guy that had put in 20 years in the Air Force, and was on his second career at the agency I worked at. He wasn’t the overall manager- just a supervisor. But no one- not even the governor was going to get a favor out of him. He wasn’t intimidated by anyone or anything. His retirement was secure and he could quit or be fired at anytime and he was ok with it.

            But he also was careful not to needlessly rock the boat. A VIP didn’t impress him. But he wouldn’t single them out either. He just did his job and insisted that we do our job as his subordinates. He wanted us to treat everyone fairly- and the same way.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    Teresa is new on the job. It does not appear that her actions inappropriately influenced the outcome, as charges were made. The mayor is right, though.

    1. Silence

      Ms. Wilson may be new on the job, but apparently council believed her to have the experience and education to be the city manager. At a VERY high salary compared to other comparable cities, by the way.

      1. Barry

        A city like COlumbia should never hire someone that isn’t experienced enough to do the job.

        I’m not saying Ms. Wilson is inexperienced. What I am saying that no one can honestly claim “inexperience” as an excuse for her doing anything. Her experience was vetted, and she was deemed to be the best candidate and she was hired.

        That doesn’t mean she can’t mistakes. However, inexperience can’t be an excuse for anything. A city the size of Columbia is not a place to learn on the job.

        She screwed up.

  4. Silence

    I believe that I was one of the first people to question why Ms. Wilson was at the scene of the incident, and wondered how often she (or her predecessors) had shown up at crime scenes. Glad that the mayor is reading Brad’s Blog and listening to the sensible and wise comments that I (and others) make here!

  5. Silence

    I wonder a few things about the cabbie shooting story :
    1) Was Vincent Laban invoking “stand your ground”?
    2) Is it typical or legal for people in the US on a green card to own and carry firearms?
    3) I know driving a cab is a dangerous job, there’s cash on hand and you deal with some scary people, but is a rifle part of a cabbie’s typical kit? Wouldn’t a pistol make more sense?
    4) Does Vincent Laben suffer from diabetes, causing him act strangely?
    5) It appears that his family (or someone with the same last name) owns Royal Cab LLC, would they be liable for his behavior, even if he’s an “independent contractor” driving the cab?
    6) Did city manager Wilson respond to the scene?

  6. Brad Warthen Post author

    You know, I never know for sure what y’all are going to engage with. I thought this would start an intense discussion — yet in 24 hours, only 10 comments have accumulated. That’s respectable, but not exactly red-hot.

    Meanwhile, the silhouette of a dancer turning clockwise (although there are those deluded souls who think she is turning widdershins) has attracted 38. Not setting the world on fire, but at least a lot warmer than this discussion.

    Which is cool with me, because I can talk about stuff like the turning dancer all day, and have a great time doing it. I was just surprised…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m so proud of myself that I just worked in the word “widdershins” for the first time in my life.

      I’ve known the word since I was a kid, but never got any use out of it until now. There was this book that I got from the Weekly Reader Book Club — which I loved, and belonged to for years — called Ghosts Go Haunting, by Sorche Nic Leodhas. It was a collection of traditional Scottish and Irish ghost stories, and there was one in it called “The Man Who Walked Widdershins Round the Kirk.” That is to say, he walked counterclockwise around a church, thereby bringing a curse upon himself.

      Good stories…

      1. Silence

        I think the nipples drove the dancer conversation, to a large extent.
        Now Leon Lott weighs in on l’affaire Randolph. Of course Lott is either the most powerful man in the Midlands, or handing out orders to the CPD’s “Soul Patrol” or both….so who knows how this crap all ties together?
        Do Mayor Stevie B and shire reeve Leon L get along? Anyone know?

        1. Mark Stewart

          I think he’s right and the mayor wrong on this. On the other hand, someone commented that the question of how Randolph got to the dry cleaner is a valid one.

          It would seem that the quid pro quo to dismissal of the charge would be surrender (or limitation) of one’s drivers license. When the cop asked him if he understood the situation, Randolph said no before the situation spiraled out of control. But no would also mean that one recognizes that one is putting lives at risk (of other people and of oneself) to cling to one’s desire for mobility. I hope he does the right thing and remove himself from the road. DUI is DUI regardless of whether it is drinking, drugs, texting, or a medical condition.

          1. Doug Ross

            Agreed, Mark. That would seem to be a fair deal. If your illness is such that it can impair your thinking ability to the point of being arrested you should not be behind a steering wheel.

      2. Scout

        Hey I read a book called Widdershins but it was much more recent – just a few years ago. Its an urban fantasy by Charles DeLint who frequently works elements of irish and scottish folklore into his stories. So did the man who walked widdershins around the kirk enter into the fairy world – I think that is what is supposed to happen.

        The spell checker suggests that widdershins should actually be sidewinders. It clearly is not right brained enough to gain entry to the fairy portal.

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      Well, I was on a train or a plane most of Wednesday and Thursday.

      Here’s my crazy theory: what if Navarro teamed up with Leon Lott to sully the department and pave the way for unification with RCSD, with Navarro in a prestigious post?

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          or Navarro is freelancing, hoping to effect the merger and be rewarded, sort of like Strangers on a Train…

  7. Ralph Hightower

    If I had been acting erratically in public and being belligerent to law enforcement, would I have gotten the same treatment as Lonnie Randolph?

    Perhaps Steve Benjamin recognizes that there is a double standard for those that are politically connected and trying to defuse the situation so that he can get another term in office.

    Meanwhile, city manager, Teresea Wilson basically said in a press release to Benjamin’s request to stop non law enforcement from showing up at crime scenes, “We’ll see. I run this city!”

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      I find the whole conflict between the two interesting, since “everyone” says she’s just his puppet….

      We don’t know what would happen if an “ordinary” person were under similar circs. Lonnie can be very abrasive at the best of times, but The State has a noce article about how diabetes can indeed cause this sort of issue with law enforcement.


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