COLUMBIA -- The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday canceled its expected vote in favor of a new four-year term for the chief of South Carolina's state police force.
State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel took over the state's top law enforcement agency last year when former U.S. Attorney Reggie Lloyd stepped down from the agency tasked with assisting local law enforcement agencies, investigating crimes and that serves as the hub for the state's homeland security operations.
If eventually confirmed by the full Senate -- which voted 33-0 last summer to let him finish out Lloyd's remaining eight months in office -- this would be Keel's first full term in the top slot. Tuesday's meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee was not rescheduled.
Keel, only the fourth chief at the agency that was established in 1947, joined SLED in 1979 and worked his way through the ranks, serving as a helicopter pilot and hostage negotiator and also completing a law degree from the University of South Carolina.
After the Senate Judiciary Committee gave him the OK last year, Keel said of the top SLED post, "I never dreamed I'd be doing anything else."
Keel, a Barnwell native, served as chief of staff and heir apparent at SLED to retiring Chief Robert Stewart in 2008 and as interim chief when Stewart stepped down after two decades at the agency.
But then-Gov. Mark Sanford instead tapped former U.S. Attorney Reggie Lloyd to lead the agency, saying he saw an opportunity to appoint a minority.
Sanford sent Keel to run the Department of Public Safety, which was then under state and federal investigations as troopers were caught mistreating suspects in incidents captured on dashboard video.
One trooper used a derogatory term for blacks while pursuing a suspect on foot. He was acquitted of a federal civil rights charge. A trooper seen hitting a suspect with his patrol car was sentenced to community service. A third trooper seen kicking a suspect received probation.
Then-director James Schweitzer and Highway Patrol Col. Russell Roark ultimately resigned amid questions about trooper discipline. Keel emphasized reforming trooper ethics and lax discipline and changing how issues of conduct were handled. He fired four troopers in his first several months in office.