Former SCDPS chief files suit over firing arrest - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Former SCDPS chief files suit over firing arrest

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Dashcam video of Bobby Collins' traffic stop in January. Dashcam video of Bobby Collins' traffic stop in January.
Bobby Collins Bobby Collins

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – The former head of the South Carolina Department of Public Safety's Office of Professional Responsibility is suing the agency, as well as the SCDPS director over a Jan. 10 traffic stop that cost him his job.

SCDPS director Leroy Smith fired his former internal affairs chief Bobby Collins hours after a trooper pulled Collins over on Greystone Boulevard around 1:30 a.m. Jan. 10. The patrol video shows Collins' Land Rover drift over the inside line of the four-lane road, then back into his lane. Trooper Sean Groubert pulled Collins over on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Collins' lawsuit seeks damages for: gross negligence, defamation, false arrest and wrongful termination. Collins names SCDPS and Smith as defendants, according to the suit filed by Columbia attorney J. Lewis Cromer.

Smith fired Collins before the close of business on Jan. 10 after he reviewed the 100 minutes of dash camera video from the traffic stop. The reason for the firing, according to Smith was, "conduct unbecoming of a state employee," according to the termination letter Smith placed in Collins' personnel file.

The suit accuses director Smith of "failing to carry out a meaningful investigation of the events," and relying on Groubert's version of what happened when Groubert had evidence of "prior misconduct and propensity to violate department regulations," according to the court filing. Groubert resigned under former SCDPS director Mark Keel's leadership, but was rehired in 2012.

Collins argues Groubert stopped him "without probable cause," then the trooper failed in "improperly administering" the field sobriety tests. The video showed Collins—a retired Florida highway patrolman of 21 years—correcting Groubert's techniques during the eye test. After several minutes of a back-and-forth exchange between the men, the video shows Groubert put Collins in handcuffs on a charge of driving under the influence.

Collins didn't tell Groubert that he was the OPR chief until Groubert placed him in cuffs.

The former chief thinks he was targeted by Groubert when the stop happened. During the stop, Collins discussed the problems he says he discovered while investigating multiple racial profiling complaints against members of the Highway Patrol. "The problem is, like I alluded to in the traffic stop, there's a greater problem that exists here in South Carolina and Leroy Smith is aware of the problem. I was attempting to address some of those issues and along the way, I was victimized by the same type of culture that I described and that the patrol was actively addressing," Collins told WIS in a recent interview.

The former chief was in charge of investigating every complaint filed against SCDPS employees. Shortly after taking the job, Collins "…observed a negative trend of patrol officers making improper traffic stops and arrests, failing to follow established and taught procedures, and using improper and rejected methods of law enforcement-including racial profiling," according to the lawsuit.

Collins was restrained for more than 45 minutes as Groubert and his supervisor Corporal Reggie McFadden discussed with Highway Patrol commanders what to do with Collins. After a second round of sobriety tests, Groubert admitted to finding no signs of impairment and let Collins go.

Later that day after a review of the recording, director Smith fired Collins. The suit states Smith was further negligent in his failure to properly investigate the incident by failing to "include a lesser or less harsh disciplinary action." Collins' personnel file contained no discussion of any such disciplinary action option.

A second cause listed in the suit is for defamation. Collins' suit claims because of the firing that came immediately after the suspected DUI traffic stop, the "alleged suspicion of DUI created defamatory inferences." Also, his firing made it appear, "Collins acted in a manner so egregious in his conduct toward the officers that he was deserving of termination of employment," the record shows. Also, Collins claims Smith and SCDPS published the allegations to the department and to the public with a "reckless disregard for the truth and common knowledge of its falsity," which Collins argues, "alleging that Collins is unfit for his profession and may be guilty of a crime."

The suit claims Collins was terminated for making "complaints against Trooper Groubert for his improper conduct," stemming from the traffic stop. Collins thinks the real reason he lost his job came, "in retaliation for making these complaints in an effort to scapegoat Collins and avoid negative public attention," the suit states.

On Monday, SCDPS released the following statement:

The Department is filing its answer with the court today, and this document sets forth the agency's official response to Bobby Collins' complaint.  The Department will vigorously defend this lawsuit until its conclusion and looks forward to the opportunity for all the facts to be addressed by a court of law.

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