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Richland County fires jail director Tyrell Cato amid questions surrounding hiring

Tyrell Cato (copy) (copy)

Tyrell Cato was hired to run the Richland County jail a month after he was fired from the same position in neighboring neighboring Kershaw County. Richland County fired him Sept. 9. South Carolina Jail Administrators' Association/Provided

COLUMBIA — Richland County fired its jail director Sept. 9, more than a month after learning he was fired from his previous job for sexual misconduct, documents from a state agency reveal.

Tyrell Cato was hired to run the troubled Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center at the beginning of July. Since then, Richland County learned he was fired from his last job, and two different state agencies launched investigations because of the circumstances surrounding his hiring.

Richland County fired Cato on Sept. 9 for "failure to complete the probation period successful(ly)," according to a document the county filed with the Criminal Justice Academy.

 A county spokesperson confirmed Cato's termination in an email Sept. 14 and said it followed an internal review by Richland County Administrator Leonardo Brown.

Richland County Council Chairman Overture Walker said in a statement that hiring and firing are under Brown's purview, not the council's.

"The role of council is to set policy, not chime in on or influence decisions pertaining to county workers," Walker said in the statement. "The administrator is tasked with administering county government, and the council respects his right to exercise discretion in carrying out that obligation."

Cato was previously terminated from Kershaw County in May for making repeated inappropriate comments about female officers and asking them for sex, according to complaints two women filed during an investigation into his behavior.

Cato denied these allegations in a written statement during the investigation. A Kershaw County Grievance Committee upheld his firing.

Brown did not learn about the circumstances of Cato's departure from Kershaw until weeks after hiring Cato. A county representative did not request Cato’s work history from the state agency that tracks it until Cato had been working in Richland for nearly three weeks. No one from Richland called Kershaw County to ask about Cato’s work there until Aug. 23 — nearly two months after his hiring.

The state Criminal Justice Academy finished processing the county’s background check on Cato on Aug. 31, after rejecting two previous attempts for including wrong or incomplete information.

The Criminal Justice Academy is investigating Richland County for this belated background check process. The state’s Law Enforcement Training Council requires all agencies hiring a law enforcement officer to speak to the officer’s previous employer. The penalty for failing to do so is a $1,500 fine.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating Kershaw County after an employee submitted documents to the Criminal Justice Academy erroneously saying Cato had resigned voluntarily.

Kershaw County Administrator Danny Templar previously said he thought this “was an honest mistake.” Kershaw County Lieutenant Ervin Whack, who submitted the report, also filed a statement supporting Cato during the investigation following Cato’s firing.

Spokespeople for both agencies said they could not provide updates in the investigations Sept. 12.

Brown previously said he hired Cato with hopes that he could help fix the troubled jail.

Cato’s predecessor, longtime jail administrator Ronaldo Myers, left in September 2021 after emails showed he was on unapproved leave during a jail riot that injured two officers and led to charges for 12 inmates. This prompted the county to introduce more security measures, including body cameras, body scanners and more security in its parking lot.

Also in 2021, an inspection found the jail to be overcrowded and understaffed, prompting the county to freeze 50 positions and up its base pay to $40,000 a year.

Two federal lawsuits have alleged brutal conditions for inmates. One, filed in April, claimed mentally ill inmates in particular were subject to mistreatment. The other claimed the jail refused medical care to inmate Lason Butler before he died in the jail in February. The county coroner ruled his death a homicide, saying jail staff did not give him appropriate food or liquids.

Click here for more news from Columbia, S.C.

Reach Skylar Laird at (843) 830-1526. Follow her on Twitter @sky_latte_.

Skylar Laird covers Columbia and Richland County for The Post and Courier. She is originally from Missouri.

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