The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation by the Williamsburg County Board of Disabilities and Special needs, according to a statement by the state Department of Disabilities and Special Needs.
South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (SC DDSN) officials initiated an administrative review at the Williamsburg County Disabilities and Special Needs Board (WCDSN) July 26 in response to "allegations of abuse, neglect, and exploitation which were reported to the SC State Law Enforcement Division. Those allegations are currently being investigated by local law enforcement."
“Disability and special needs provides a vital service to some of our most disadvantaged citizens, the most vulnerable ones we have,” Rep. Cezar McKnight said. “And this is yet another agency that this county sorely needs that we've lost because lack of oversight and it is tragic.”
McKnight mentioned the Williamsburg County Disabilities and Special Needs Board's situation in a Facebook post on August 2 which stated "Yet another county agency taken over by the State."
However, the state Department of Disabilities and Special Needs said it has not taken over the Williamsburg board.
"While SC DDSN is continuing to review and provide technical assistance to the WCDSN Board to ensure the health and safety of those supported, SC DDSN has not assumed control of the WCDSN Board," according to the statement.
"SC DDSN has been, and remains, in communication with the chairperson of the WCDSN Board regarding necessary oversight and administration of the agency. Technical assistance has been provided by SC DDSN to WCDSN Board as requested. SC DDSN confirms that it has required WCDSN Board to submit a corrective action plan to address material deficiencies in compliance with DDSN Policies and Standards which have been identified through the administrative review," according to the statement.
The executive director of the county board, Mary Burgess, said she was “not at liberty to discuss” the situation when reached by phone August 3. Burgess did not answer whether or not she had been placed on administrative leave. A spokesman for the state department confirmed to The News that Burgess had been placed on administrative leave. Burgess did not return calls August 9.
Linwood Cooper, the chair of the Williamsburg County Disabilities and Special Needs Board, did not return a message August 9.
“The mission of the Department of disabilities and special needs is to enhance the quality of life, for those persons who have those kinds of challenges in their lives,” Sen. Ronnie Sabb said. “We have an obligation to those constituents to make certain that we in Williamsburg County to provide the best care and the best educational opportunities that we can.”
Emails sent August 9 requesting more information on the investigation from South Carolina Law Enforcement Division went unanswered.
On July 22, the Williamsburg County Disabilities and Special Needs Board, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, said that only one “grievance” had been filed in the last year with the board and that was about “an employee or former employee appealing certain enumerated job actions specifically as to that employee” and therefore was exempt from the FOIA request.