After two officers who wrote bogus traffic tickets resigned from the Charleston Police Department amid an ongoing investigation into misconduct, changes to the force’s Traffic Division are already underway, said Chief Luther Reynolds on Thursday.
Lt. Matthew Wojslawowicz — who has overseen the department’s Special Units Team, including the Traffic Division, since 2018 — has been reassigned to be the command duty officer in charge of the city at night, Reynolds confirmed.
Kristy McFadden, a newly-promoted lieutenant, will assume command of the Special Units Team on Saturday, the chief said, adding that the change in leadership is related to the ongoing investigation, but is not punitive and that there is no evidence so far that Wojslawowicz was involved in any misconduct.
“I believe we need a fresh perspective in the Traffic Division and I do not need an expert in traffic to lead that division,” Reynolds said. “I need somebody who has good skills, who has integrity, who’s a leader, which Kristy McFadden is.”
Officers Michael Baker and Blaine Morgan resigned from the force after admitting to falsifying traffic tickets as a means to pad their respective citation totals.
Baker, who had been with the department since 2014, resigned June 14, and the department announced his departure July 3. Morgan, who had been with the department since 2013, resigned Wednesday.
The incident that triggered the inquiry occurred on May 23, when a female motorist was pulled over by one of the two former officers and given a verbal warning for an expired license plate tag, said Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis. The woman became suspicious when she received a notice for failing to appear in traffic court for five citations of which she had no knowledge.
Reynolds confirmed that the motorist is a relative of a command officer within the police department, and that the command officer informed police leadership, who launched an internal affairs investigation.
Baker was called in for an interview about the false tickets one day after the complaint was received, the chief said.
When a law enforcement officer is dismissed from his or her post, the department is required to file what's called a notification of separation form with the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy, which oversees certification and training efforts.
Baker's form, obtained by The Post and Courier, says he was accused of "willfully providing false, misleading, incomplete, deceitful or incorrect information on a document, record, report or form." The document does not provide any additional information about his departure.
A spokeswoman for the Criminal Justice Academy said Thursday that the same form for Morgan has not been received; departments have 15 days to file after an officer leaves.
No criminal charges against either of the former officers have been announced; however, Reynolds did not dismiss the possibility that such charges could come in the future.
“We can’t ever repeat that again,” the chief said. “Why would they feel the need to do this? Through our interviews so far … it appears a big component of this is laziness.”
Baker was “artificially inflating the number of tickets written in an attempt to conceal the fact that he was not actively and appropriately patrolling his area,” Charleston police said in a statement.
Reynolds also denied that the city currently employs a traffic ticket quota.
At some point in time, 10 years ago or more, ticket writing was emphasized in Charleston to the point where the city’s budget was deeply dependent on the practice, the chief said.
“That ended many years ago,” Reynolds said. “I have specifically said numbers are not important to me. I (couldn’t) care less if we write 10 tickets or 10,000 tickets.”
What is far more important is that officers and the department as a whole are focused on the major issues impacting public safety and quality of life in Charleston, the chief said. Traffic-related issues are consistently brought up at public meetings and the department is committed to addressing them.
And while the department is not going to back off of issues like speeding, impaired driving and pedestrian and bicyclist safety, Reynolds said he knows that tickets are only one tool in achieving that goal.
Education and building relationships with the community are equally, if not even more, important, the chief said.
Meanwhile, many details concerning the scope of Baker’s and Morgan’s misconduct, whether any other officers engaged in similar activity and what drove these officers to falsify tickets, remain unknown.
Police have said that any pending ticket that was issued by Baker or Morgan would be waived.
And Reynolds pledged to be as transparent as he can while the investigation moves forward.
“We want to build confidence with the public,” the chief said. “We’re not going to dodge this.”
Michael Majchrowicz contributed to this report.