COLUMBIA — A months-long investigation into the former interim director of South Carolina’s public safety agency has ended with the attorney general’s office saying there’s nothing to prosecute, and the person at the center of the allegations saying Tuesday that it’s time to move on.
The review “concluded that there is no prosecutable offense” against Col. Kenny Lancaster, the attorney general’s office wrote in a letter dated Nov. 10 and released Tuesday. The three-sentence letter was addressed to State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Chief Mark Keel.
The investigation stemmed from an alleged affair in the 1990s. The woman’s complaint in August to the Department of Public Safety’s internal affairs division was forwarded to Keel, who — to avoid a conflict-of-interest as Lancaster’s former boss — sent it to Attorney General Alan Wilson.
“I have been cleared of any wrongdoing. ... This matter has caused pain for my family and has focused unwarranted scrutiny of the patrol,” Lancaster said in a statement to The Associated Press. “As a result of the AG’s findings, it is clear that the time has come to move forward and put this episode behind us.”
The statement represented his first comments on the issue. They came as Lancaster, the interim director of the larger public safety agency since June, resumed his former role as the head of the Highway Patrol division.
A 22-year veteran of Florida’s Highway Patrol assumed command Tuesday. Gov. Nikki Haley recently appointed Leroy Smith as her pick to lead the agency that oversees the highway patrol, Transport Police and Bureau of Protective Services, signaling that she wanted to move past the affair allegations swirling around Lancaster.
Lancaster became interim DPS director in June when Haley put former Director Keel in charge of SLED. Haley had previously said Lancaster wanted the permanent post and interviewed for it.
In announcing her pick, Haley said it was time to move on.
Smith, who served in the Navy from 1983 to 1987, has been with the Florida Highway Patrol since 1989. He was appointed that agency’s chief of investigations in January 2010. Haley said he directed eight hurricane evacuations in Florida, served as chief training officer, and handling that agency’s budget.
Haley’s choice to lead the Cabinet agency must be confirmed by the state Senate. The Legislature returns to Columbia in January.
In August, a Beaufort woman alleged she and Lancaster began an affair in 1992 and that, when she married in 1993 and ended it, the married Lancaster harassed her trooper-husband out of jealous retaliation. Her husband was eventually fired in 2008. Ali Rowell also alleged that Lancaster inappropriately used his patrol car to run errands in a photography business with her while on duty.
WIS-TV and a political blogger reported separate allegations regarding Lancaster’s relationship with a SLED agent, who is the wife of a trooper and was assigned to Haley’s detail.
Lancaster began his career with the Highway Patrol in 1998. After working in his native Lancaster County, he returned to Beaufort County in 1995 as a sergeant. He was promoted to major in 2007 over regional operations and colonel over the Highway Patrol in 2009.
Public record requests from The AP showed the last complaint in Lancaster’s file dates to fall 1997. The complaint ended in April 1998 when the fired trooper agreed to a settlement. Lancaster’s file contained only two other complaints, one from 1989 deemed unfounded and another from 1986, for which investigators exonerated him. His work evaluations between 1988 and 2008, the latest provided, commend him as meeting or exceeding expectations.
The internal affairs file on Gene Rowell, a trooper for 18 years, contained 11 complaints dating to 1995. He was counseled or reprimanded for five. Some complaints were resolved with his departure.