What’s with all this Mickey Mouse in the Columbia P.D.?

This is just embarrassing — or should be — to anyone associated with the Columbia Police Department, or with city government, period.

Some of y’all have begun commenting on it on a previous thread, but I thought I’d start this separate one with a link to this morning’s story in The State, a portion of which follows:

COLUMBIA, SC — A Columbia Police Department captain was fired Monday after city officials said he failed to report to duty, secretly recorded a phone call with a supervisor and engaged in spreading rumors.

But David Navarro, the former captain, says he has done nothing wrong. In fact, he has signed a sworn affidavit accusing interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago of asking him months ago to participate in a scheme to frame the chief’s boss on drug and weapons charges. The affidavit was provided Monday to The State newspaper by Glenn Walters, an Orangeburg attorney who is representing Navarro in his dispute with the city. Those who lie on affidavits risk criminal charges if their statements are proven false.

The back-and-forth between Navarro and city officials led Monday to one-on-one meetings between news reporters and City Manager Teresa Wilson, Santiago, the city’s human resources manager and three other city employees. In those interviews, city officials gave almost unprecedented explanations about Navarro’s firing. Typically, city officials only will confirm a firing and then cite a policy of not speaking about personnel matters….

… as, you recall, city officials did and still do with regard to former Chief Randy Scott. Which sort of stands out — this willingness to take public sides in the dispute and discredit Navarro. (At this point, a city official is saying, “We can’t win with you media types. You blast us when we won’t talk, and you blast us when we do.” And I suppose there’s something in that.)

The reference to “the chief’s boss” above is not to former Chief Scott, or to City Manager Teresa Wilson, but to senior assistant city manager Alison Baker.

Which sort of points to part of the problem. In this weak mayor, council-manager form of city government, the lines of accountability are wonderfully vague and confused, to anyone who doesn’t make a profession, or at least an avid hobby, of following city government. There is no one elected by the city’s voters who can act unilaterally to straighten out the mess, as there is no elected executive in charge of the police department. The mayor is but one of seven votes on the council.

Which is why stuff like this just festers, on and on. In the meantime, the seven elected co-directors of the city, to the extent that they can work together, need to do what they can to sort out this ongoing soap opera that is the Columbia Police Department. Because it’s not taking care of itself. That is to say, contrary to the myths propagated by advocates of the council-manager system, the “professionals” aren’t handling it very well.

32 thoughts on “What’s with all this Mickey Mouse in the Columbia P.D.?

  1. Silence

    I’ll bite and say that this has little to do with the council-manager system of government. In this case we are talking about (allegedly) an interim police chief (employee) suggesting to a senior police captain (employee) a plot to plant a stolen handgun and cocaine on a senior assistant city manager (also an employee). Even with a strong mayor system we’d still have city employees. Some of them might still be crazy. Some of them might even concoct plots to frame other city employees for crimes.

    Regardless of the form of government we are saddled with, the taxpayers of Columbia deserve a full investigation. We (city voters and taxpayers) do a very poor job of holding our elected officials accountable. This wouldn’t change with a change in structure. Despite the numerous controversies (real and alleged) that have occurred during Mayor Benjamin’s term, he hasn’t attracted a meaningful challenger in the upcoming election. He’ll win handily in the upcoming election, almost certainly.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      yes, underscoring the “allegedly”

      A major difference here is that Navarro was fired, and has been very vocal about why. In most other cases, this has not been true.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Silence, for me it always comes down to “whom do we hold accountable”? How is a citizen supposed to engage this mess? And that brings it back to the fact that no one is politically accountable. And so the bad craziness continues…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        To elaborate…

        The only way that political accountability occurs is when a city manager falls so out of favor with a majority of city council that he or she gets fired. As Leona Plaugh can testify.

        There ought to be ways for political accountability to be asserted way, WAY before things get to that totally messed-up point. A mayor ought to be able to intervene on a day-to-day basis and say to these city employees, do this or that, instead of what you’re doing. And things get straightened out. And if they don’t, we know whom to hold responsible.

        Leona Plaugh has always had my sympathy concerning what happened to her as city manager. The way I saw it, she was trying to gain control of an entirely unworkable system, in which she had seven bosses all separately interfering with her administration, because they were all equally entitled to do so. So she tried to assert herself, and wound up looking Machiavellian, and was soon out. I don’t think that was fair.

        1. Silence

          Agreed that it would be nice to be able to hold someone accountable in all cases of malfeasance. The council manager system provides a layer of protection from the whims of the electorate. In effect Council acts as a corporate board of directors, with the mayor as chairman. They in turn hire the CEO to run the city. I can’t imagine that things would be any better if Mayor Bob or Mayor Benjamin were appointing a city manager. I also can’t imagine that things would be any better if they were acting as the city manager.

          Ultimately, I’d like to see a city workforce made up of professionals, doing their jobs, hired by a competent executive, who is in turn hired by competent director(s). If we continue to vote crappily, we’ll continue to have shabby results. If we did a better job of choosing, I think we’d have better results. Competence is key, and we are quick to accept mediocrity.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    Navarro’s story is truly weird for those of us who know Allison Baker. Who would believe he is a coke head? Outside of a TV show, why would Ruben expect that sidelining Allison would result in Randy’s being moved to Allison’s place, and not, say, Krista Hampton? …and, as I said elsewhere, Les Wiser considered himself a good choice for Interim Chief. Ruben was hardly a shoo-in for that job.

    Ruben does not strike me as that sort of guy, and I have known him for several years now. He is open, and, I suppose, could have joked? Cannot fathom how to reconcile the stories….I’m backing Ruben.

    1. Mark Stewart

      Nobody truly knows anybody.

      There are three possibilities here: a) the IC is actually nuts, b) the Captain is actually nuts, or c) both of them are simply representative examples of the late stage results of systemic corruption.

      There is a fundamental lack of integrity within and around the Statehouse, the Courthouse and the Town Hall – all across the Midlands (and probably the state as a whole). Are we really surprised that South Carolina is in a steady state of decline?

    1. Silence

      My prediction is that nothing will come of any of this. Navarro will continue to be fired, or more likely paid (by taxpayers) to go away in an out of court settlement. IC Santiago will go on being IC, but the controversy won’t help him to become the permanent Chief. Wilson will go on doing her job, as will Alison Baker. And we’ll all live happily ever after.

      1. Doug Ross

        The less money we pay into government, the less likely we are to have corruption within it. Money and power (and sex) drive most human behavior.

  3. JesseS

    Everyone should have known better than hiring Officer Dave Navarro. The dept was never the same after he replaced Officer Tobias, who replace Officer Marshall, who replaced Officer Frusciante, who replaced Officer McKnight, who replaced Officer Slovak after he died.

    1. Silence

      You know I’m not a big fan of the Feds, but in this case I’d feel better if the FBI was investigating. I think our local law enforcement agencies are just a bit too chummy to investigate each other.

  4. Barry

    I visited Greenville yesterday. Enjoyed a nice drive downtown. It’s a real treasure of a city with a vibrant, nice, safe downtown.

  5. Silence

    So now IC Santiago has lawyered up, hiring Rep. Todd “pebble in the shoe” Rutherford. He’s going to sue Capt. Novarro for defamation, which I don’t blame him for doing. I just wish he’d picked an attorney who wasn’t involved in so much other local hijinx.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Ruben doesn’t make a lot of money, and lawyers are expensive. I’m guessing Todd is working on contingency or otherwise cutting him a deal….

  6. Silence

    If IC Ruben Santiago’s name is cleared after all of this meshugas, I hope someone creates a deli sandwich in his honor.

    Sliced corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut, thousand island dressing on grilled rye bread. They could call it….

    The Santiago!!!!

  7. Libb

    Leon Lott has repeatedly boasted obout his military-like training program(Black Ops anyone?) and the high caliber of LE officers it produces. Scott, Santiago and Navarro were touted as top of the class when he “sent” them to the city. Now just look at the mess his problem children have created. I’d like to think Lott’s pedestal just got very wobbly.

  8. Kathryn Fenner

    Well, Scott probably got promoted higher than he was emotionally ready. No sign of black ops. I think Ruben will be exonerated. The story is too bizarre!
    There are hints that Navarro had issues at RCSD, too.

    1. Doug Ross

      Let’s not forget the botched Sponseller case…. Was there any outcome of the suit fired officer Isa Greene filed against Scott? Are we to assume that the department hires a bunch of lunatics who make false accusations?

      From The State back in March:

      In her lawsuit, Greene says she was “an exceptional officer and received satisfactory performance reviews.”

      For years before Scott was named police chief in January 2011, Greene’s lawsuit alleges, the Columbia police department had “allowed a hostile work environment to exist based upon unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, verbal and physical conduct of a lewd sexual nature and sexual favoritism that is so severe and pervasive as to render the working conditions in the CPD psychologically intolerable for female officers.”

      Female officers who went along with “this hostile working environment and entered into relations with male officers were given preferential treatment,” Greene’s suit alleges.

      “For example, a married male corporal impregnated a female recruit and then continued to train and supervise the recruit,” the suit alleges.

      “In another example, Scott overrode Greene’s rejection of a female employee who lacked qualifications because he was having a relationship with the female employee,” Greene’s suit alleges. Male officers also were paid more than female officers at the same rank and qualifications, the suit states.

      Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2013/03/18/2682755/officer-fired-after-sponseller.html#storylink=cpy

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        The lawsuit has not come to trial. It was only filed in March!
        Yes, Isa Greene’s allegations are not uncommon in many organizations, especially law enforcement! They may be true; they may not be. It is also not uncommon for employees who are terminated to make claims. That is why so many get severance packages: they come with strings! I believe our host had such strings.
        Navarro’s claims are just bizarre, especially to those who know the parties. I could buy that Ruben was joking, MAYBE. No one rational would think Allison Baker is a coke head or dealer…..

        1. Doug Ross

          So why hasn’t Scott filed a defamation suit against Greene? Her charges against him specifically having a relationship with another employee would seem to be something one would fight strongly if untrue.

          “Only” filed in March… justice is certainly not swift. I guess if it was, lawyers wouldn’t be able to bill as many hours.

        2. Silence

          I don’t think it’s appropriate to joke about framing up a supervisor or senior executive, especially when their career or freedom could be involved. At a minimum, if IC Santiago made the alleged statements, it shows a serious lack of judgement. Hopefully someone exhibiting such a lack of judgement wouldn’t be police chief, on an interim or permanent basis for a major metropolitan area.

          If IC Santiago did not make the statements alleged by Capt. Novarro, however, I have no problems with him.

          1. Doug Ross

            Navarro was fired supposedly for taping a phone call, right? Where’s the tape? What’s on the tape?

            This whole situation just doesn’t sound right. A guy’s going to sabotage his career in law enforcement? Why?

          2. Silence

            Now with the Verna York story, the only thing that doesn’t make sense is that by July 9, Chief Scott was already out at CPD (after his episode) and was working at the RCSD. Wilson could have hired Santiago as Chief without getting Allison Baker out of the way. Stuff continues to confuse.

          3. Doug Ross

            Again, my question is now why TWO employees would jeopardize their careers to pursue this?

            Let’s recap the past year in Columbia:
            – Teresa Wilson hired under questionable circumstances
            – Lillian McBride screws the pooch on the election and retains a job.. her replacement works 100 hours a week including one sketchy “charity”
            – Randy Scott gets a sweetheart deal on his retirement, then quits due to “PTSD” when it appears that a number of rumors are about to be investigated… then gets re-hired just a short time later in a position created for him in the county
            – Palmetto Compress and Bull Street development deals are done using questionable tactice
            – Now this…

            How long will the apologists/cheerleaders keep backing this regime?

          4. Silence

            Doug, the McBride thing was a Richland County debacle, not a City of Columbia one. Other than that, though, you are correct.

          5. Doug Ross

            I know it was Richland County… but it’s not us folks out in Blythewood who are running the county… plus all the absentee voting that pushed the penny tax through came from downtown.

            The key players in the county are all in the same circle of quid pro quo.

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