Benedict College found guilty in fire alarm maintenance case - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Benedict College found guilty in fire alarm maintenance case

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A Columbia judge found Benedict College president David Swinton guilty Monday for failing to maintain fire alarms in two of the college's on-campus dormitories.

Swinton did not attend the court hearing, instead was represented by his attorney, E.W. Cromartie, III. Cromartie entered a plea of "no contest" to the charges and municipal judge Dana Turner found Swinton guilty of the charges. The charges totaled $722.50, but Turner suspended the fines and ordered Swinton to pay $200 in court costs.

The Columbia Fire Department's Fire Prevention Bureau issued the charges March 15 after a compliance check found the college had not conducted annual fire alarm maintenance inside the Gressette Building and the college's Mini Dorm.

Deputy Fire Marshal Kent Scott charged the college after school officials could not produce records that showed the two building's fire and sprinkler systems had been tested by TriTek, a private fire alarm company the college contracts through to maintain its fire alarms and sprinkler systems. The fire department uses the inspection records from TriTek to verify the fire safety systems are fully functioning. Scott told the judge Monday that the college completed the required maintenance after the tickets were issued.

The inspection reports also show what deficiencies a system may have; problems fire inspectors cannot see without the maintenance records.

Judge DeAndrea Benjamin recused herself, when the case was set to be tried March 22, citing a conflict of interest. Benjamin said her reason for the recusal was that her husband, Columbia attorney and candidate for Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin, is a sitting board member at Benedict College.

Scott told the judge Monday that Benedict officials have spent millions of dollars in an effort to become compliant with the city's fire code laws. In a WIS investigation last fall, fire department inspection records revealed more than 500 fire code violations at the college. The inspection reports WIS obtained through a Freedom of Information Act covered an 11 month period, from October 2008, through September 2009.

The inspection reports showed that nearly every fire alarm and sprinkler system in Benedict's dorms were not functioning properly. The reports also showed inspectors found black mold, broken, locked, blocked, and obstructed emergency exits. Following WIS reports on the fire codes at Benedict, Columbia Fire Marshal Carmen Floyd ordered fire code re-inspections inside of every building at Benedict.

In a press conference in March, Swinton promised to have the college in full compliance by the beginning of April. It will be October before Benedict's compliance records are known, when the fire department is set to conduct full annual inspections at Benedict College.

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