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City council member asks council to request FBI investigation of CPD

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Moe Baddourah Moe Baddourah
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

After accusations of impropriety in the Columbia Police Department arose this week, a  city council member is suggesting the FBI investigate the department.

Council member Moe Baddourah sent an e-mail to other members of council, asking them to request the FBI investigate the CPD.

"Regardless of what becomes of the SLED investigation, the people of Columbia must be able to have the peace of mind that any investigation is thorough and objective," Baddourah wrote. "While it's not my intent to question the ability of SLED to investigate this matter, those questions have been raised -- including some from our constituents."

Baddourah said he is prepared to contact the FBI, suggesting it would "Make a stronger statement if we were to make a request as a Council."

SLED has been asked to investigate the police department after Captain Dave Navarro told WIS he was asked by interim chief Ruben Santiago to plant drugs and a gun in the vehicle of Assistant City Manager Allison Baker.  Navarro claims Santiago asked him to use his role in the department to take a gun and drugs from a crime scene.  Navarro said it was part of a greater plan to get former Chief Randy Scott appointed to assistant city manager.

Navarro said he reported the scheme to CPD's Internal Affairs division and SLED.

"I have no problem with SLED investigating this matter," Baddourah told WIS. "I just think we need one extra step if we can get the FBI involved, just to give a little peace and quiet to everyone involved and everyone who lives in the city."

Baddourah is challenging Mayor Steve Benjamin in the November Mayoral election. 

When asked about Baddourah request to involve the FBI, Benjamin issued this statement:

"Nothing is more important to me than keeping Columbia safe and ensuring public trust in our police department. That's why I requested SLED immediately look into the claims made against CPD to find out if there is any evidence supporting the allegations. But with an active investigation now underway, it is improper and reckless for us to politicize the process by requesting FBI involvement at this point.

With an active investigation now underway, it is improper and reckless for us to politicize the process by requesting FBI involvement at this point. I have every confidence in Chief Keel and his agency's ability to thoroughly investigate this matter professionally, objectively and quickly. And I am confident that, if SLED feels they need to involved the FBI or any other agency in the course of their investigation, they will not hesitate to do so.  But that is their decision, not ours."

Here's what some of the council members had to say:

Brian DeQunicey Newman: "As a former prosecutor, I have worked with SLED on a number of occasions and can tell you that it is a first class law enforcement agency. Mr. Baddourah's allegation that these agents are somehow not objective is completely out of bounds and could have very real consequences to any criminal charges that arise out of this investigation as well as future SLED investigations.

Cameron Runyan: "I trust the professional law enforcement officers of the state of South Carolina to execute their job without needing to hand over the investigation to a federal agency.  However, should SLED require the assistance of the FBI, they are more than capable of making that request on their own without interference from elected officials."

Leona Plough: "I have suggested to all of City Council that we discuss this at our August 6th work session. I further stated  that it may be something we should at least consider."

Tameika Issac Devine: "Yes, I would support the request."

Officials at SLED assured Jody Barr, who first broke Navarro's story, that the agency would conduct an impartial investigation.  SLED released this statement regarding the investigation:

Since 1947, the S.C. Law Enforcement Division has been called upon to conduct investigations, some of which have involved law enforcement officers and the agencies for which they work.

SLED agents are expected to conduct themselves and their investigations in a professional, fair and unbiased manner. Each investigator's case report must go through a thorough internal review process before it can be forwarded to the appropriate prosecutorial authority which will also review the file before moving forward.

We are always mindful that our work must stand up to judicial scrutiny.

As to the question whether SLED can and will conduct an impartial investigation into the Columbia Police Department, regardless of personal or professional relationships, the answer is yes.

Larry Spyolt, who is a candidate for Mayor of Columbia, offered this statement on the issue:

"Under the current circumstances I do not agree with soliciting the FBI to get involved with a current investigation. If Baddourah had an understanding of law enforcement in our beloved city he would know that this call isn't even necessary. Bringing politics into how we handle our police force is the very root of our problems today. Once this investigation is over we will need to call upon SLED for assistance in future investigations and we do not need to damage our relationships with local law enforcement agencies over a cry for political attention. There is no great conspiracy between CPD, RCSD and SLED. It is true that the citizens have lost faith in our local government and fixing that starts at the top. These current issues reinforce my determination to merge CPD with RCSD by making CPD a division of RCSD. Doing so will allow CPD to benefit from the resources that RCSD has and allow the Chief to run his department without interruption from City Government officials"

To contact Columbia City Council members:

Moe Baddourah mobaddourah@columbiasc.net

Sam Davis sdavis@columbiasc.net

Tameika Isaac Devine tidevine@jilawfirm.com

Leona Plough lkplaugh@columbiasc.net

Brian DeQuincey Newman bdnewman@columbiasc.net

Cameron Runyan carunyan@columbiasc.net

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