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One finalist withdraws from Columbia Police chief search

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As community members spoke Tuesday night in an attempt to have the Columbia Police Department's interim chief considered for the permanent chief's position, one of the five finalists dropped out of the running.

Charles Rapp, the head of the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Division, sent word to Columbia officials that a medical emergency would not allow him to travel to South Carolina, forcing him to withdraw from the selection process.

Late last week, the city released a list of five candidates they were considering to fill the position vacated by Chief Randy Scott.

But perhaps conspicuously absent from the list was the man who has been running the department for several months: Ruben Santiago.

Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson said Santiago had at least been interviewed for the position and was even offered to stay on at the police department as an assistant chief.

However, several community members who are calling themselves "Team Santiago" want the whole chief selection process stopped and Santiago installed as the full-time chief.

At least 10 community members took their support to city council's public comment time.

One of Santiago's supporters, former mayoral candidate Larry Sypolt, openly questioned the committee selection process spearheaded by Wilson and chaired by attorney Robert Bolchoz.

Sypolt accused Bolchoz of helping to "fix" the process to arrive at a pre-determined choice for chief. That accusation included a high volume argument in a Devine Street bar with Sypolt.

The confrontation led to Bolchoz responding to Sypolt during the meeting.

"I was not drunk. I did not tell him I picked the police chief. I did not tell him I had the fix in with Teresa, whom I barely knew until the last seven days and talked to very little about this over the course of the whole process. I did not tell him that the two of us somehow managed to commandeer this process," said Bolchoz. 

Bolchoz was also grilled by Councilman Cameron Runyan, who says last August, the chairman made a statement that seemed to instantly eliminate anyone from within the police department from serious consideration as a candidate for chief.

"The chief's position should not be open to any current or former member of the Columbia Police Department," said Runyan, reading from a supposed quote from Bolchoz. "Chief Santiago has done an admirable job of trying to right the ship at CPD under very difficult circumstances. There are many excellent officers in the department truly dedicated to public service and safety, but they are hamstrung by the turmoil and allegations of serious misdeeds at the very top."

That statement was lifted from an email Bolchoz wrote to a constiuent and Mayor Steve Benjamin.

Meanwhile, Wilson reiterated that she has confidence in the process to narrow down the original list of 50 applicants to the final five.

Four finalists have had a round of meetings Tuesday and Wednesday. They also are scheduled to appear at a public forum from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at City Hall.

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