McConnell prepares staff for Highway Patrol probe

Senator Glenn McConnell

COLUMBIA — In an internal memo dated Wednesday, state Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell directs Senate staff on an investigation into the South Carolina Highway Patrol.

The memo obtained by The Post and Courier, comes on the heels of shake-ups in the patrol and its parent agency, the Department of Public Safety. Senators will meet today to discuss for the first time evidence of troopers mistreating motorists.

"I will do anything within my power to ensure that any material or people that you feel you need to talk to are made available as soon as possible," McConnell, R-Charleston, wrote.

Among the items McConnell listed for review are:

--Copies of all pertinent videotapes, recording as many as 40 separate incidents.

--Documents of internal investigations, including decisions concerning punishments.

--An organizational chart for the patrol and the agency and a listing of its chain of command.

--Policies that outline how complaints against officers are to be handled.

--Information on who had knowledge of alleged wrongdoing and how far up the chain of command the matter was taken.

--Statistical information regarding the number of trooper stops, how often dashboard cameras are activated and the breakdown of legitimate complaints.

--Manuals concerning practices and policies of the Office of Professional Responsibility, the agency's investigatory arm.

Staff is directed to begin a review of the agency in advance of the upcoming confirmation of a public safety director. Gov. Mark Sanford is expected to announce his nominee soon.

Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, said the governor's nominee will be critical to agency reform.

"He's going to have to be compassionate but firm enough to get the respect of the patrol," Ford said.

Ford is one of the senators appointed to the special subcommittee that is going to investigate the matter. The others are Sens. Jake Knotts, R-West Columbia; Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden; and Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet.

The nominee will replace James K. Schweitzer, a 33-year FBI veteran who had run the agency since 2004. Schweitzer stepped down in February following the release of a video that showed a white trooper shouting, "You better run, (n-word), I'm fixin' to kill you" at a fleeing black suspect.

Since then, a number of videos recorded by troopers' dashboard cameras have surfaced, including ones that show troopers hitting fleeing suspects with their cruisers and striking subdued suspects.

Several state and federal investigations are also under way.