Wilkins: Insufficient evidence to support criminal charges in CP - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Wilkins: Insufficient evidence to support criminal charges in CPD `black ops` investigation

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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).
Bridget Caffery (Source: Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center) Bridget Caffery (Source: Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center)

After months of speculation and investigation, authorities say there is not enough evidence to charge Columbia's interim police chief with wrongdoing in connection with allegations that he ordered "black ops" hits against the city's second-in-charge and a fellow police officer.

During a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Thirteenth Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins said evidence doesn't support the allegations Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago devised a plan to plant a stolen gun and cocaine in a city official's car, which would then set off a series of events resulting in a change in leadership within the city manager's office and inside the police department.

"I've determined that [former CPD Capt.] Dave Navarro's allegations that Santiago asked him to plant evidence lacked sufficient evidence to support criminal charges," said Wilkins.

"The investigation at this point has been concluded to my satisfaction," said Wilkins. "Keep in mind I do not decide or advise on potential violations of internal policies or otherwise unprofessional conduct."

Wilkins also said Santiago's claims that Navarro shredded documents in a criminal manner or mishandled police charity funds did not yield evidence which would support moving forward with charges. "We have not found any sufficient evidence to support any criminal charges," said Wilkins.

Since mid-December, Wilkins has been going over SLED and FBI investigative reports handed to him by Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson, who claimed a conflict of interest because of his personal and professional relationships with many of the figures named in the investigations.

During the investigation, Wilkins said the scope of the probe had to be broadened when it became apparent that some of the players involved may not have been forthright. "That is when FBI and SLED became aware that there may have been some potential hindering or omissions," said Wilkins.

Wilkins said Santiago and former department crime analyst Bridget Caffery were investigated for potentially hindering the investigation.

"The conduct of Interim Chief Santiago and Ms. Caffery caused the FBI and SLED to broaden the scope of their investigation to determine if either party intentionally hindered or impeded the administration of justice," said Wilkins "Specifically there were instances of these individuals failing to be completely forthright with the investigators regarding certain aspects of the investigation."

The solicitor said there was not enough evidence to support criminal charges that "could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt," said Wilkins. "Their omissions or statements were not material to the investigation that I was asked to do."

Caffery made headlines when she requested Santiago and former chief Randy Scott show up at the jail after she was arrested for DUI in late December.

She has since resigned from the department.

Santiago's attorney, State Rep. Todd Rutherford, said his client is grateful the investigation is over. "We do believe that this exonerates Chief Santiago in any wrongdoing in these matters," said Rutherford.

City Manager Teresa Wilson said she will request the full case file from SLED so that she and "proper subject matter experts, executive staff and legal advisors" can "assess all outcomes of the investigation process." She said she cannot comment on what may happen in the future as a result of the probe.

Wilkins said the timing of the investigation and subsequent closure had nothing to do with the city's search for a permanent police chief.

"There was never any conversation with the city regarding a timeline," said Wilkins. "Even there had, it would not have been honored."

Santiago's omission from the list of finalists raised the eyebrows of some in the city.

In September 2013, 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.

Navarro says he was removed from his job shortly after reporting his allegations to the State Law Enforcement Division and the department's Internal Affairs.

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.

Wilson fired Navarro in July for "secretly recording" a conversation, "insubordination to supervisor" and "criticism and malicious gossip."

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