COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Former Columbia Police Captain Dave Navarro filed a lawsuit late Wednesday asking a Richland County jury to decide whether he was wrongfully terminated and whether the interim police chief violated federal law. The suit does not list a dollar amount, but asks that a jury determine damages if Navarro prevails.
The suit was filed by Orangeburg civil rights attorney Glenn Walters. Walters also represents former CPD Captain Isa Green, who is also suing the city after she was fired and blamed for botching the Tom Sponseller search. Green's time cards show she wasn't in town during the first few days of the search.
Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago, through written statements, has previously denied every Navarro allegation. In Santiago's latest statement, released to WIS on July 22, the interim chief wrote, "I have been apprised of the allegations concerning me, and I unequivocally deny them and any current or future allegation regarding this matter. Furthermore, this matter has been referred for investigation and there will be no additional comment."
We have not gotten a response from Santiago or the city regarding Navarro's lawsuit.
Navarro claims he was fired after refusing to help Santiago "frame" assistant city manager, Allison Baker. The plan, according to Navarro, entailed Navarro getting cocaine and a stolen gun from one of his drug unit's crime scenes, then helping Santiago plant the drugs and gun in Baker's car.
Navarro said he had a meeting with Santiago inside the chief's office on July 9, when the pair had a conversation the lawsuit characterizes as a "game changer." In that conversation, Navarro told WIS Santiago told him the real reason he was being relocated to the western region.
Navarro was to work there until his retirement, which is 18 months away. The former captain said Santiago told him he wanted a "black ops" performed on Sergeant Andre Williams, who was over the west region. "You didn't help me with Allison Baker. I am going to give you a chance to redeem yourself by sending you to the western region so you can take care of Andre Williams. I want you to do 'black ops' on Andre Williams," according to the lawsuit.
The original "black ops" plan was supposedly former chief Randy Scott's idea, Navarro said Santiago told him. After the July 9 order to "black ops" Williams, Navarro realized Santiago was behind the plans to frame his fellow officers all along, according to the lawsuit.
After the July 9 meeting, Navarro said he asked Santiago to give him "60 to 70 days to find a new job and I told him that I was going to report this to somebody and that I was getting an attorney," Navarro told WIS in a recent interview. During that conversation, Navarro said Santiago told him he would consider that his resignation.
The next morning, after Navarro finished reporting the "black ops" orders to State Law Enforcement Division agent Kevin Baker, Navarro said Santiago called him to the chief's office and took his gun and badge. Navarro remained suspended until July 12 when city manager Teresa Wilson fired him.
Wilson accused Navarro of "secretly recording" a conversation, "insubordination to supervisor" and "criticism and malicious gossip." Walters, Navarro's civil rights attorney, disagreed with the city's reasons for the firing, calling it "wrongful, retaliatory…because plaintiff was fired for refusing to participate in the unlawful schemes to frame Alison Baker and Andre Williams."
RICO: Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act violation
The Navarro lawsuit wants a jury to determine whether Ruben Santiago was the racketeering head of a "criminal enterprise," according to the suit. Under this section, the filing names only Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago as the target of the RICO section.
RICO, an acronym for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, is a federal law established in the 1970s. Congress passed it to target the leaders of criminal enterprises in organized crime, according to the Justice Department's website. The racketeering acts are crimes such as, "extortion, bribery, prostitution, narcotics sales and murder. A RICO violation requires "at least two acts of racketeering activity committed within ten years of each other," according to the DOJ.
In this case, Navarro's suit claims since late 2010, Santiago and "other un-named defendants acquired and maintained interests in and control of the enterprise through a pattern of racketeering," according to the court filing.
The timeframe listed in the lawsuit coincides with the same time former chief Randy Scott and Ruben Santiago left the Richland County Sheriff's Department to take over CPD. Scott took over the chief's job at CPD in October 2010.
The suit points out several acts of "obstruction of justice," which Walters contends are acts of racketeering. The following instances make up the RICO portion of the Navarro suit:
Arrest of NAACP chief Dr. Lonnie Randolph
On July 12, 2013, Columbia officers responded to a call at a Five Points dry cleaner business and found Dr. Lonnie Randolph, the head of the state's NAACP. Randolph is accused of refusing to pay his dry cleaning bill and then refusing to leave the business, according to police.
CPD said when they responded, Randolph refused to leave again. The police report states that officers tried to handcuff Randolph, but he resisted and struggled with officers. CPD said officers had to use force to get Randolph into the back of the police car.
Santiago approved a "field booking" for Randolph, before allowing him to leave the scene. Reporters later found out city manager Teresa Wilson also showed up on the scene after being contacted by someone there. Wilson released a statement, claiming to have personal knowledge of a medical condition from which Randolph suffered.
The lawsuit contends, Santiago had no "legal authority" to book Randolph, something a municipal judge would have the authority to do. Santiago later told reporters he would consider dropping the charges against Randolph, citing a medical condition. The Navarro suit claims Santiago's actions in the Randolph case established a racketeering act of "obstruction of justice."
Merritt McHaffie, Former Five Points Association Executive Director
The suit alleges Columbia Police committed other acts of obstructing justice related to multiple traffic tickets and a burglary case at the home of former Five Points Association director, Merritt McHaffie.
The filing shows Columbia Police ticketed McHaffie on three separate occasions within the last 12 months and each charge was dismissed by the city:
*August 2012: CPD officer K. Gilbert ticketed McHaffie in a traffic offense, then the city dismissed the charge eight days later, according to the lawsuit.
*Feb. 13, 2013: CPD officer R.M. Johnson ticketed McHaffie for speeding, then 16 days later, "the charge was disposed of with deceptive label of 'forfeiture,' when it was in fact dismissed," the lawsuit states.
*May 3, 2013: CPD officer Frank Hinson charged McHaffie with speeding, according to city court records. The charge was dismissed on July 11.
In December 2012, CPD responded to McHaffie's home after witnesses said they spotted three men breaking in. McHaffie told WIS, the first call she received notifying her of the crime was from Captain Sharp, the commander over the Five Points area. When CPD officer arrived, they arrested suspects and later reported finding marijuana inside McHaffie's home that the police report shows she shares with one other woman.
In the lawsuit, Walters claims CPD obstructed justice by the "suppression" of a drug arrest at the residence after officers reported finding a "measurable amount of drugs," the filing shows. A sworn statement from the case file shows in May one of the initial officers on the scene found out Captain Sharp told another officer, "not to worry about charging the homeowners," CPD officer CB Williams wrote in his statement. The suit states, "…management of the City of Columbia Police Department prevented drug charges from being brought…when in fact the officers intended to prosecute."
McHaffie told WIS Sharpe told her officers found "drugs" in one of the suspect's pockets when officers searched them before an arrest. McHaffie says police told her that any drugs found at the scene belonged to the suspects in the burglary. The entire CPD incident report obtained by WIS never mentions drugs inside the home, or on any of the suspects charged in connection to the burglary.
CPD OFFICER 'DOUBLE DIPPING' AND CHEATING TIME CARDS INVESTIGATION
A final accusation of obstruction of justice deals with a current CPD lieutenant and an internal affairs file that shows the officer was "'double dipping' and cheating on his time cards," according to the lawsuit. The officer is referred to as "Sgt. John Doe," in the filing.
Former Captain Dave Navarro said he got a tip that the lieutenant was working another job while on the clock for the city. Navarro said he started digging and found out that CPD's Internal Affairs Division had opened an investigation into the then-sergeant two years before. The "file was lost for two years," Navarro's suit claims. During that time, the sergeant was promoted to CPD's lieutenant position, according to the filing.
Navarro later sustained the charges against the now-lieutenant, finding the lieutenant, "…violated the policy and cheated the city of Columbia through fraudulent conduct," according to the lawsuit.
Navarro claims, interim chief Ruben Santiago forced him to close the investigation and would "not allow plaintiff (Navarro) to take action," the suit states, "forced by Santiago to dismiss the matter…even though criminal activity was involved."
CONTINUING FBI AND SLED INVESTIGATION
In an email to WIS on July 18, State Law Enforcement Division spokesman Thom Berry confirmed SLED agents had opened an investigation into the Columbia Police Department. Berry would not give any further details, citing an "ongoing" investigation and invoking a SLED policy to not discuss some investigations that are not closed.
Sources later confirmed to WIS that at least one FBI agent had been assigned to the CPD investigation. In an emailed statement Monday afternoon, FBI spokeswoman Denise Taiste wrote, "I cannot confirm or deny our involvement in these allegations, however, it should be noted that the FBI takes all matters concerning "Public Corruption" very seriously."
Neither SLED nor the FBI would confirm any federal involvement in the case, but sources have confirmed to us that FBI agent Chris Garrett has conducted and assisted in at least one interview as of Monday night.
There is no timeline on how long it may take the FBI and SLED to finish the Columbia Police Department investigation.