For the second time in his career with the St. George Police Department, Chief Anthony Britt has left the force as investigators look into allegations of wrongdoing against him.
Targeted in a State Law Enforcement Division probe into the spending of town money, Britt handed in his resignation Thursday.
The town hired him as a sergeant in October 2008. He assumed the top spot's responsibilities in April 2009 after the previous chief retired, and he was confirmed as the town's highest lawman four months later.
His most recent stint with St. George came after a nine-year hiatus from the town's police force.
Britt worked for the department in the 1990s, but he was suspended from his job as a sergeant in 1999 “pending the outcome of an investigation,” town clerk and treasurer Annette Moore said Monday.
What came of the probe more than a decade ago wasn't something Moore could discuss, she said. Britt was not reinstated after the investigation, she said.
The most recent controversy involving Britt came after Mayor Anne Johnston reported to SLED in early May the possible misspending of a check that she said wasn't properly deposited into a town bank account.
She declined to discuss what kind of funds were under scrutiny, but Solicitor David Pascoe disputed an earlier report that they had been seized during a drug bust and spent on a police Christmas party. He refused to discuss the case further.
SLED spokesman Thom Berry on Monday reported no new developments in the criminal investigation.
An attempt to contact Britt at his home was not successful.
As Lt. Trumaine Moorer acts as interim chief, Johnston said she would go to great lengths to find a permanent replacement for Britt and pay the new chief the highest possible salary that a 2,084-resident town can afford.
Britt's starting salary as chief was $40,000, and the town clerk said she couldn't discuss his pay level when he resigned because it was still less than $55,000.
Johnston said the town, like others, has long struggled to boost salaries among its 10 full-time police officers and one part-timer who are finding themselves busier in recent times.
The town and nearby areas have seen violent crimes in the past year. It is often the site of drug busts because its jurisdiction includes Interstate 95, a narcotic-trafficking pipeline on the East Coast.
“We want to bring in somebody who can do a good job and help this town,” Johnston said. “We all have to pull together to make that happen.”
Johnston was the target of some criticism from the Town Council when she reported the money issue to SLED.
Two members of the police committee, Mayor Pro Tem Margie Ladson and Oscar Odom, said that when Johnston called for the investigation, she perpetuated a personal vendetta against Britt that started before he was hired as chief.
Johnston decried the criticism as unfair, and said it arose from her demand during the 2009 hiring process for the council to follow town rules for picking department heads.
Already employed by the department, Britt was a finalist for the top post, but the town also was considering candidates from outside the agency.
Her detractors on the council said the town would have had to pay an external hire about twice Britt's $40,000 salary. To avoid spending money to conduct further interviews, council members moved to confirm Britt.
Johnston voted against Britt's hiring, she said, because the town ordinance was disregarded, not because of a personal dislike of the policeman or his credentials.
The mayor said she and Britt were not at odds during his tenure.
“I don't know of any other problems with the Police Department other than the one check I wasn't able to chase down,” Johnston said Monday, “and the same problem every police department has: They're underpaid.”
The town will advertise the chief opening and consider outside candidates and ones within the department, Johnston said.
That process could take two to four months, she said.
Despite shortcomings in pay, Johnston said, the town offers a health insurance policy that costs its officers only $30 a month.
“I think it's imperative that we do a thorough search and find the best man for the job,” Johnston said. “We're going to look far and wide.”
When St. George rehired Britt in 2008, according to Moore, the town clerk, he reported on a job application that he had worked for the Vance Police Department since 1999, when the town forced him out of his post.
He ascended to that agency's highest office by the time he left in September 2008.
Records from the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy indicated that Britt underwent police training starting in 1993, but it showed no previous law enforcement employers before 2008. The reason for the discrepancy wasn't known.
Moore said Britt also listed on his application stints as a manager at a Bi-Lo supermarket for one month in 2001 and as manager for two months at a Crazy Joe's Food Mart in 2007.
A St. George police car was briefly parked in the driveway to Britt's doublewide mobile home, off Britt Green Road, Monday afternoon.
A woman who answered the door declined to confirm her relationship with the former police chief, and she said she and Britt would not comment on the ordeal.
“It all gets blown out of proportion instead of telling the truth,” she said. “Tell the real part of it. That's what I'd like to know.”
The woman refused to say exactly what she was referring to.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
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