A North Charleston police officer who was fired last month after being arrested for speeding and carrying a gun after drinking had a long history of similar complaints and terminations at other police departments.
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Maurice Leverne Huggins, 39, was arrested July 24 after Charleston County sheriff's deputies said he was going 110 mph and weaving through traffic along Ashley Phosphate Road in his truck. Huggins was not on duty at the time.
Deputies reported finding a gun and his North Charleston police badge in the driver's seat.
The incident report said Huggins smelled like alcohol and had a flask that also smelled like booze but did not seem impaired or intoxicated. There is no indication he was given a sobriety test. The report also noted Huggins was carrying a counterfeit $100 bill.
The incident revives questions about how officers are certified and hired in South Carolina. The state's guidelines were last revised in 2006, after The Post and Courier's "Tarnished Badges" series spotlighted how "gypsy cops" with spotty records were hopping from department to department because nobody had been keeping track.
Huggins, of Cemetery Road in Orangeburg, was fired or forced to quit from four other agencies - three of them after complaints about speeding - before he was hired by North Charleston last year, according to the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy.
Huggins was charged with reckless driving, open container, and no proof of insurance, all magistrate's court offenses.
Huggins was put on administrative leave and fired Aug. 8 after an investigation. The North Charleston Police Department submitted a summary of the investigation to the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy, the agency that certifies officers when they change jobs.
The summary notes that Huggins' arrest "was on several local news stations and in a local paper bringing the department and the officer in disrepute." It concludes by noting that a review of Huggins' past employment and driving record "shows a willful disregard for his safety and the safety of others."
Huggins told investigators he was not familiar with the department's policy that does not allow an officer to carry a gun after drinking, according to the summary. He told investigators he was at a bar with a friend and drank three or four beers and a shot. He said he put the empty flask in his truck when he was cleaning out his old car to sell it.
As far as the fake $100 bill, Huggins told investigators somebody must have given it to him without his knowledge when he cashed a check or gave a person change at a bar.
'A total liability'
Huggins was fired from the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office in November 2004 after complaints that he kept speeding when not responding to an emergency, including going more than 100 mph on Interstate 26 and U.S. Highway 301, according to records at the Criminal Justice Academy.
"The deputy has been counseled several times on the same type of behavior in the past," his supervisors noted. "This is a total liability to the citizens and to the sheriff's office if this conduct is not corrected."
He briefly worked for the Lake City Police Department and the S.C. Department of Corrections before taking a job with the Allendale Police Department in September 2006. He was terminated in January 2007.
Huggins used his patrol car for personal business while not on duty, drove it home while not working, was observed several times speeding when not responding to emergency calls and failed to tell supervisors about damage to his patrol car and handheld radio, according to a separation report to the academy. Huggins joined the Blackville Police Department in February 2007 and then jumped to the Denmark Police Department sometime later that year.
He resigned from Denmark in December 2007 after being confronted about speeding. A report noted that "he was observed on VHS tape (vehicle video) driving at speeds of 84 mph in the city limits without justification."
Huggins joined the Santee Police Department in February 2008 and was fired in June 2008 because of "poor performance" that would preclude rehiring him, according to papers submitted to the academy.
Huggins rejoined the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office in February 2009, despite the recommendation four years earlier that he not be rehired. Records don't indicate how well he did this time.
He jumped from Orangeburg to Walterboro Public Safety in November 2011 and remained there until March 2013. Records don't indicate any problems there. Attempts to reach Huggins were not successful. The voice mail for the phone number listed for him was full.
Huggins joined the North Charleston Police Department in March 2013. North Charleston checked with Walterboro and got no complaints, according to paperwork submitted to the academy for Huggins' recertification.
The academy indicates that North Charleston didn't check with any previous employers other than Walterboro. North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers said it is not standard procedure to check only the previous employer when hiring an officer.
"No, it's standard practice to look at as much as we can," he said. "It's very possible it slipped through the crack."
It's likely Huggins would not have been hired if the department had known his full history, he said.
"Once you can show a pattern, the liability issue kicks in, and then somebody's got to move," Driggers said. "I think it's safe to assume we might not have hired him. ... I think we just missed it. Mistakes happen."
No 'moral turpitude'
Every time an officer changes agencies, the Criminal Justice Academy reviews the officer's records and says whether the officer should be recertified.
The academy always reported the reason for Huggins' termination to the next agency that hired him; it didn't matter whether he resigned or was fired.
The academy also recommended Huggins be recertified each time. That's because under S.C. law, a speeding complaint is not enough to prevent an officer from being recertified when he applies for the next job, according to academy spokeswoman Florence McCants.
The academy follows the guidelines of Section 23-23-60 of the South Carolina Training Act when certifying officers. As the law stands now, an officer's driving record would disqualify him only if convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or dangerous drugs, driving while impaired, reckless homicide, involuntary manslaughter or leaving the scene of an accident.
In another recent case involving a local law-enforcement officer, Berkeley County deputy Justice Jenkins, 34, resigned Aug. 18 after supervisors found out he had been driving with a suspended license. The offense will likely be on his record but is not likely to stop him from being rehired if he gets a valid driver's license, McCants said.
Berkeley County was Jenkins' first law-enforcement job, and there is no record of previous complaints or infractions, she said.
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.
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