After at first saying they could not discuss the termination of a police officer because it was a "personnel issue," North Charleston police officials on Tuesday said the officer was fired for gross misconduct and released additional details about his termination.
The response came after The Post and Courier filed a written Freedom of Information Act request asking for copies of the officer's performance reviews and in-car video camera footage.
Former officer Nicholas Lomma, 25, of Summerville, was charged Saturday by the S.C. Highway Patrol with driving under the influence after it said he wrecked his marked patrol car into a ditch just off S.C. Highway 28 in rural Colleton County while off duty early Saturday.
"I was embarrassed by it. The police department was embarrassed by it, and he no longer works here," North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt said Tuesday.
"I hauled him in here the first business day after it happened and I fired him. I fired him for gross misconduct. He was in violation of a wide range of our policies. You can't consume alcoholic beverages and drive a city vehicle. You can't drive a city vehicle while you are off duty, outside of a 10-mile radius from the city limits."
Lomma was not given an opportunity to resign, Zumalt said.
"If he tries to get another job in law enforcement, he will have to explain this," the chief said.
On Monday, after Zumalt fired Lomma, police spokesman Spencer Pryor issued a news release saying Lomma was no longer employed by the department. The release also said
"because this is a personnel issue, we cannot discuss Mr. Lomma's employment departure."
In an effort to be able to explain to its readers why Lomma was terminated, the newspaper on Tuesday asked for his personnel records and the in-car video footage from his cruiser. Pryor said the department required that an FOIA request be filed before it could release personnel records, so the newspaper filed one.
The in-car video camera footage was released later Tuesday on a DVD that was made available to the newspaper as well as other media outlets. Pryor said it took a while for technicians to download the video from the in-car unit to a DVD. The footage doesn't show an accident, but it does show that the cruiser sat motionless, apparently off the road and in a ditch, for quite some time early Saturday.
The wreck happened about 1:30 a.m. Saturday but wasn't reported to the Highway Patrol until about 7:30 a.m. according to a Highway Patrol incident report.
Lomma used his police radio to call the North Charleston dispatcher about 4:30 a.m. Saturday and request that a supervisor respond to him. According to written departmental policy on city vehicles, that is exactly what Lomma was supposed to do.
The watch commander, a lieutenant, accompanied by a sergeant, drove to Colleton County to try to find Lomma, who told the watch commander that his car was running but would not shift into gear. The two North Charleston supervisors contacted the Highway Patrol, Zumalt said.
"We don't investigate our own wrecks," Zumalt said. "That's why we called the Highway Patrol."
After the Highway Patrol investigated the single-vehicle wreck, Lomma was charged with first-offense driving under the influence.
In response to the newspaper's FOIA request for Lomma's personnel records, Zumalt described Lomma as a fine police officer with no previous complaints or disciplinary actions in his file.
"Now, we've got a vacancy where we once had a good, hard-working officer," Zumalt said. "I am very disappointed in him."