Suspended Folly officer says he never knew about alleged sex assault
A Folly Beach police officer who was suspended after supervisors said he should have arrested a man accused of fondling a 13-year-old girl on the beach told a grievance committee he was never told about the incident.
“It’s not in my character just to walk off and leave victims without public assistance,” Public Safety Officer Ron Avallone told the committee Monday night.
Avallone said he was told only that 67-year-old Fred Rogers was making a disturbance at the beach near The Tides hotel and asked to remove him the morning of June 23.
“I was never told there were other victims on the beach,” said Avallone, who also is a victim’s advocate for the police department. “I by no means knew that a child was touched or assaulted.”
Most of the audience that overflowed the 50 seats in council chambers and spilled out into the hall was on Avallone’s side. They shouted out encouragement and clapped loudly from time to time, which drew several warnings from the committee chairman.
Avallone said he asked for the public hearing after the report of his suspension was released to local media.
“It’s unfair to get out only one side of the story,” he said. “I feel I was being prejudged and convicted without being heard.”
Public Safety Director Dennis Brown suspended Avallone for a week without pay after Rogers was arrested on a charge of fondling another woman at a condominium pool a few hours after the beach incident.
Brown told the panel that if Avallone had followed standard protocol at the beach, the second alleged incident at the pool could have been prevented. The chief said Avallone escorted Rogers off the beach before other officers arriving on the scene could question him, thus “showing more concern for the suspect than the victim.”
Avallone’s supervisor, Sgt. Andrew Gilreath, recommended that Avallone be fired. Brown told the panel he gave Avallone the suspension instead of firing him because he hoped it would be an isolated incident. He said he felt he had to give Avallone some sort of discipline because he was afraid the town might be liable for the second alleged assault at the pool after Avallone left the beach.
Avallone wants his suspension reversed. He also wants to be assigned to work for another supervisor. He accused Gilreath of deliberately twisting the facts in his report to Brown in an attempt to get Avallone fired.
The panel has 20 days to make a recommendation to council.
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or twitter.com/dmunday.