Source: SLED delivers 'Black Ops' investigation file to solicitor

Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago (L) and former CPD Capt. Dave Navarro (R).
Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago (L) and former CPD Capt. Dave Navarro (R).

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Multiple sources have confirmed to WIS that State Law Enforcement Division agents have finished their work on the investigation into corruption allegations inside the Columbia Police Department. The file, according to sources, was delivered within the last two weeks.

A SLED spokeswoman would not confirm whether agents sent the file to Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson, but would only tell WIS the case "is still an open investigation." Calls and emails to Johnson's public relations representative, Nicole Holland, have not been returned as of this report. Johnson would likely be forced to hand the file over to another solicitor's office for review and any potential prosecution because of his close ties to the Columbia Police Department, SLED, and the Richland County Sheriff's Department.

SLED does not make a determination of whether charges would be filed against anyone involved in the case. That would be decided by the solicitor. SLED's role was to collect evidence, interview witnesses and suspects, then hand their findings over to a prosecutor. As of this report, Johnson would make a decision as to whether anyone is charged in this investigation.

Last month, the City of Columbia answered a racketeering lawsuit filed by former police Capt. Dave Navarro. Navarro filed the suit in July, weeks after Interim Chief Ruben Santiago fired him. In court filings, the city denied Navarro's allegations that Santiago ordered "black ops" hits against the city's second-in-charge and a fellow police officer.

In July, WIS got a call from Navarro telling us his boss wanted him to help set up Assistant City Manager Alison Baker. "I called her [City Manager Teresa Wilson] on the phone and I was able to talk to her," said Navarro during an interview with WIS in July. "I gave her specifics, that Interim Chief Ruben Santiago was planning to put a gun -- a stolen gun -- and cocaine in Mr. Baker, one of the assistant city manager's -- Allison Baker's -- car. He was planning to put this in his car, himself."

A Freedom of Information Act request we filed in July shows calls to Wilson's cell phone from Navarro, supporting Navarro's story of what happened the day before he was suspended.

Just days before we got the call from Navarro, Santiago had suspended the former captain; one day after Navarro called SLED and reported what he called a plot to set Baker up to get him fired.

Santiago and the city denied Navarro's allegations then, and in an answer to Navarro's lawsuit, which was filed in federal court, the city denied those claims again.

The city says Navarro's firing was justified, saying he'd been insubordinate in a reassignment, secretly recorded a phone conversation with Santiago, and that Navarro was gossiping.

The city says it had grounds to fire Navarro even before the allegations because of an alleged recording Navarro made, which would be a violation of city policy. We filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the recording and for records to show how the city obtained it. The city denied our FOIA request, claiming the recording was "under investigation." We challenged the city, citing the FOIA law that required the city to release the parts that were not part of an investigation, but the city claimed the entire recording was being investigated. As of this report, the city has not provided any evidence to the public of the recording it claims to have.

The city referred us to SLED for a copy of the recording, but SLED denied our FOIA request on the same grounds as the city.

The city also says Navarro failed to report illegal or unethical conduct to the city, which officials say was another reason to fire him. Santiago admitted he knew about the Navarro recording weeks before Navarro came forward but the city has not provided any evidence that Santiago reported the recording to the city, as policy would require.

"I actually confronted him [Navarro] about the recording," said Santiago in July. Reporter: "When did you confront him?" Santiago: "I learned about it a few weeks ago; several weeks ago. Less than three weeks ago and I asked him, I said it bothers me that you would try to do something like that and I didn't get to hear the recording until a week later. But I confronted him and I said I know you recorded me. I was told you recorded me and he admitted he recorded me. Which I can only speculate as to why he would try to do that, maybe to convince somebody that his agenda was more important and he needed to stay."

The city's response also contains a list of witnesses they plan to call: City Manager Teresa Wilson, Assistant City Manager Allison Baker, the city's HR head Pamela Benjamin, Ruben Santiago and deputy chief Les Wiser.

Also included in the response is a line that says Ruben Santiago, "vigorously denies the allegations."

There is no trial date set for the lawsuit. Both sides will now start collecting evidence from the other, a process that could take several more months.

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