MAULDIN — The letter that would go on to rock this Upstate city’s police department arrived unsigned and addressed to a longtime city police captain.
A Mauldin dispatcher and three married officers were “sleeping with” each other or “just messing around,” the writer said. Someone had even accidentally walked in on the dispatcher and one of the officers at work, the letter said, “which is absolutely disgusting and uncalled for.”
Naming names and suggesting leads, the writer left it up to the captain to pursue the salacious allegations in the January letter.
“There’s proof, you just need to look for it.”
The letter, and the subsequent firings and resignations of five officers and two dispatchers from the Mauldin Police Department, were made public last month, bringing unwanted headlines to this suburb of Greenville that is home to 25,000 people.
A department investigation found that the officers and dispatchers were taking part in "inappropriate sexual activities" while they were on duty and on city property, city officials said. The acts were consensual and occurred over several years. Two people involved, a police officer and dispatcher, were not “truthful during the investigation” and were fired for misconduct, according to the city.
City officials asked the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate, but the agency declined the request after discussing it internally and with local prosecutors, a SLED spokesman said. That's left Mauldin officials with the task of moving on as they try to fill the open positions caused by losing more than 10 percent of its police force.
"While the inappropriate actions of seven city employees has garnered a great deal of attention we should not overlook all the other dedicated, professional employees across all departments in the city that continue to provide excellent customer service in their daily routines,” Mauldin City Administrator Brandon Madden said in a statement. “The city values the members of its hardworking police department.”
Meanwhile, the scandal has generated crude jokes and frustration with the department on social media. One woman recently commented on the police department’s Facebook page: “You haven’t made any posts the entire month of June. Did your social media person get fired as well?” the woman wrote. “Give us Mauldin residents a update on what’s going on now in our town please & thank you.”
Despite those and other comments, several local residents interviewed last week said they weren’t aware of or weren’t closely following what had happened. When the police department broke its Facebook silence with a message ahead of the July 4th holiday, users shared supportive and positive words.
“Thank you for all you do,” one woman wrote.
When applying for a Mauldin police officer job in 2014, Christian Balsiger was asked what he would do if a colleague, of the opposite sex, asked him to come over to her apartment to discuss training and get to know each other.
He’d been married for a couple of years then, he said, and he would not compromise his integrity or do anything that would let the relationship go from professional to inappropriate, according to notes an evaluator wrote.
Balsiger, however, was among four department officers found to have been “involved in inappropriate sexual activities” with dispatcher Calandra Dawson, according to details put out by city officials. The other officers were identified as Christopher McHone, Kyle Quin and LaQuendin Counts.
Officers Quin, Counts and Adam Lawrence were all involved in similar activity with dispatcher Amy Ketchum, the city said. All of the officers and dispatchers were in their 20s and 30s, records show.
Balsiger and Quin declined to comment. Efforts to reach the other former employees were unsuccessful.
Counts, who received the city’s 2017 officer of the year award, and Dawson were interviewed at least twice during the investigation and were found to be dishonest, according to records provided by the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy. Both were fired on June 4. The remaining five employees resigned the same day.
Mauldin isn’t the only police agency in the Upstate, or South Carolina, that has faced a scandal in recent months.
In March, a grand jury indicted suspended Greenville County Sheriff Will Lewis on charges that he abused the “power and authority of his office for the corrupt purpose of pursuing or facilitating an adulterous relationship," illegally disposed of seized assets and intimidated employees who were potential witnesses in an investigation into his conduct, among other allegations. The charges were just the latest in a string of scandals involving South Carolina sheriffs, which was detailed in a Post and Courier investigation this year.
New misconduct charges this week against suspended-Greenville County Sheriff Will Lewis add to mounting evidence that the state's system of monitoring sheriffs is broken, government watchdogs and some lawmakers say.
Although Mauldin’s situation hasn’t led to criminal charges, losing so many officers and dispatchers at one time — for a medium-sized department — can have an immediate effect.
The recent losses include the retirement of Capt. Roger Tripp after over 30 years with the agency. The anonymous letter that sparked the internal investigation was addressed to Tripp and he was one of two people who investigated the matter, Madden, the city administrator, said in an email. He was “not involved in the inappropriate actions in the department,” Madden said.
The department had 43 total officers as of Tuesday, according to South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy records, out of 52 budgeted positions.
Despite the shortfall, Madden said the city’s police department operations “would continue to provide high quality public safety services.”
Madden said the city’s human resources department is “developing” the city’s pool of potential officers and that the hiring process is ongoing. The police department, on its Facebook page, said last month it was willing to hire non-certified officers to fill openings.
News of the scandal broke during a month that Mauldin police reported good news. In the June "Mauldin Report" newsletter, the department said that reported crimes in the city were down nearly 20 percent from the previous year.
Mauldin’s mayor, Dennis Raines, and members of city council did not respond to phone messages and emails from The Post and Courier seeking comment. Police Chief M. Bryan Turner did not respond to requests by phone, email or in person.
City resident Roxy Craine said she saw headlines about the scandal on Facebook but has faith the police department will rebound as long as the empty positions are filled soon.
“If they wait two months, I would be concerned,” she said.
Another reason to be in the news
Van Broad positioned his SUV in the middle of traffic last week and took in the vacant restaurants and automobile stores along one of Mauldin’s thoroughfares.
“Look here, you can tell we need a change,” said Broad, director of the city’s community development department.
Mauldin has gained a reputation as a pass-through city for drivers on their way to and from Greenville and other parts of the Upstate. Strip malls and fast-food restaurants are common, but sit-down restaurants and community activities are harder to find, Broad said.
Many residents live in neighborhoods and housing developments that are tucked away in wooded areas and underserved by commercial development. With limited options in the city, Mauldin residents are leaving its borders to spend money, he said. Downtown Greenville, a city of nearly 70,000, is less than 10 miles away.
Broad and David Dyrhaug, Mauldin's business and development services director, are hoping to stanch those losses by creating something the city lacks: a downtown.
Their goal is to redevelop the city’s core, near the intersection of Broad Road and Main Street, by adding housing and businesses, to make Mauldin a destination. City officials have adjusted local zoning laws to help achieve that goal.
Currently, city, police and fire department buildings are located just to the east of that intersection. So are an amphitheater and sports center, which are easily missed if you don’t turn off Main Street. A vacant building that used to house a Family Dollar store now sits between the intersection and what Broad and Dyrhaug hope will one day be a defined downtown.
But there have already been successes in recent years, they said. Like Mauldin's first Starbucks. A Tropical Grille restaurant next to City Hall. And the city’s Beachin’ Fridays music events and farmer’s markets, which regularly bring hundreds to the amphitheater.
The city, Dyrhaug said, has been overlooked for too long.
“We’re changing the script on it now,” he said.
He and Broad hope it will be the city’s downtown, not future scandals, that will once again put Mauldin’s name in the news.