Columbia -- With his job in jeopardy, Columbia Police Chief Tandy Carter asked on Friday that the state Highway Patrol review his department's investigation of Mayor-elect Steve Benjamin's April 21 car wreck when it is completed.
But the request does not mean Carter's job is secure.
Columbia City Council and City Manager Steve Gantt made it clear this week that they are angry over Carter's refusal to hand over the inquiry, or even request an outside review.
The tipping point came Wednesday when Carter sent a letter to S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster asking for an opinion on whether the council could force him to hand over the investigation to another agency.
Carter was left with little choice but to comply with council's demands when the attorney general's opinion Friday backed the council.
The opinion, written by Charles Richardson, senior assistant to the attorney general, said council had the authority to direct the chief to turn over the investigation when there is an appearance of a conflict of interest.
And it said the council can create an ordinance requiring future traffic incidents involving high-ranking city officials to automatically be sent to an outside agency.
"The Chief of Police serves at the pleasure of the city which can prescribe his duties," Richardson wrote. "In the opinion of this office, the City of Columbia would be well within its authority to instruct the chief that the referenced accident investigation be turned over to the Highway Patrol and to enact an ordinance that would allow future accident investigations be turned over to the Highway Patrol when involving an elected official."
Carter also had questioned the legality of such an ordinance, which City Council plans to discuss at 1:30 p.m. Monday during a special-called meeting.
On Friday, Carter told The State newspaper that he was not ready to talk about the request for a review or his long-term job outlook in Columbia. He said he planned to hold a Monday news conference to answer all questions at one time.
Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine, who has been outspoken about the chief's handling of the investigation, said Carter's decision to ask for an independent review does not mean the pressure is off.
"We still need to talk about all of this," Devine said. "I don't think we needed to go through these lengths to get that request. This situation has been made a lot bigger and drawn out a lot longer than was necessary."
Council cannot fire Carter. That decision lies with Gantt, who said Friday it is "a personnel issue, and I'm not prepared to talk about it."
Meanwhile, Richland County Chief Summary Court Judge William Womble agreed that his court "would take jurisdiction, as requested, on anything concerning the automobile accident case involving the City of Columbia's Mayor Elect, Steve Benjamin."
This week, Columbia Municipal Court Administrative Judge Dana Turner called Womble to ask whether his court would take over any issues that arise from the accident investigation. Benjamin's wife, DeAndrea Benjamin, is a judge in Columbia's municipal court, which normally handles traffic cases.
"I discussed this matter with several of the City judges and we collectively feel more comfortable transferring jurisdiction to your Court and into your capable hands," Turner wrote to Womble in an e-mail obtained by The State on Friday.