Benjamin, Santiago ask SLED to investigate CPD

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Mayor Steve Benjamin tells WIS he's the one who made the call to have the State Law Enforcement Division investigate the allegations the city's interim police chief and a former high-ranking commander are now tossing at each other.

SLED confirmed to WIS Tuesday morning state investigators, "have begun an investigation" inside the Columbia Police Department. SLED has not said what the allegations involve.

In an emailed statement, SLED spokesman Thom Berry told WIS, "SLED has received requests from Columbia Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago and the Fifth Circuit Solicitor's Office to investigate. We have begun an investigation into the allegations involving the Columbia Police Department."

In an interview with WIS, Benjamin said he's the one who asked for SLED to investigate claims of corruption, document shredding and insubordination. "I requested the investigation be turned over to SLED," said Benjamin. "I've dialogued directly with Chief Keel. I've asked them for a speedy response and a thorough investigation. [Keel] has promised me that and I trust him and I trust the ability of SLED to get to the bottom of it."

Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson on Monday accused Navarro of insubordination, secretly recording a conversation with former chief Randy Scott and criticism/malicious gossip.

On Tuesday, a letter released to WIS reveals Santiago believes Navarro may be responsible for other violations of the law. In the letter to SLED chief Mark Keel, Santiago asked the agency look into missing or misappropriation of funds from the Columbia Police Foundation.

We asked solicitor Dan Johnson's office about the specifics of the complaint filed with SLED, but as of this report, Johnson's office has not responded to our inquiry.

Former Columbia Police Captain Dave Navarro reported to SLED agents allegations of a conspiracy inside the police department to frame assistant city manager Allison Baker. Navarro told WIS he filed a complaint with SLED agent Kevin Baker last week; the day before interim chief Santiago suspended him without pay. In a sworn affidavit, Navarro claimed Santiago devised a plan to plant a stolen gun and cocaine inside Baker's car, then have police arrest him.

The scheme would allow former Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott to take Baker's position, Santiago would become chief and Navarro's pay off would be the deputy chief's position inside the police department, according to Navarro.

Navarro wants the U.S. Attorney's office to investigate, citing SLED agent Kevin Baker's past employment ties to the Richland County Sheriff's Office, which is where Navarro, Scott, Santiago and Baker were once employed. SLED has not responded to questions about any potential conflicts of interests involved in this case.

SLED's Thom Berry would not answer inquiries as to what SLED had done with Navarro's complaint, if anything.

"We are conducting an ongoing investigation," wrote Berry. "While any investigation is underway, we refrain from any specific comments."

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