Columbia Chief of Police position has had high turnover rate in - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Columbia Chief of Police position has had high turnover rate in the last decade

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Columbia's embattled interim police chief steps down from his job and as a city employee. Ruben Santiago resigned this afternoon, just hours before City Manager Teresa Wilson is expected to meet with the final candidate for permanent chief.

That meeting is scheduled for Friday at the State Law Enforcement Division.

Wilson and Mayor Steve Benjamin issued statement's thanking Santiago for his service.

Wilson also immediately appointed police Major Melron Kelly as acting chief.

Kelly will not serve in that position for long because Wilson said she plans to name a chief no later than next week.

Santiago stepped away from the department with some questions about his conduct still unresolved.

It all began with the stunning, emotional resignation of former Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott, attributed at the time to his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In less than three months, Santiago had his own controversy to deal with -- accusations from fired Capt. Dave Navarro, charging Santiago with plotting to destroy the career of Senior Assistant City Manager Allison Baker.

"The police department is corrupt," Navarro said last year. "Right now they're trying to buy time to fabricate something the same way Chief Ruben Santiago wanted to place a stolen gun and cocaine on Mr. Baker's car."

The men sued each other and Santiago continued to maintain there was no plot and that Navarro was angry over a reassignment.

The interim chief remained on defense well into this year as both SLED and the FBI carried out investigations and the findings were reviewed for possible criminal charges.

Last month, Greenville solicitor Walt Wilkins found insufficient evidence of criminality, but the investigative files helped crush any chance Santiago had at making the cut when Wilson named finalists in the search for Scott's replacement.

"When you look at some of the controversial things and specifically with me, you know it's embarrassing," Santiago said Tuesday. "It's embarrassing and I know that when you wear this uniform there's a lot of pride that's instilled. And I still maintain the fact that these were conversations that I never thought would come to the public's light. But they have and so you've got to deal with that as they come."

Santiago told us Thursday he was not forced out of the police department, but decided to take a job with a security business -- a lucrative opportunity he says will help him "enhance" his career.

There has been a high turnover rate of top leadership within the Columbia Police Department over the last 10 years.

In 2004, the city hired Greer Police Chief Dean Crisp to replace long-time Police Chief Charles Austin.

Crisp held the job about three years. Before retiring, Crisp was questioned by city council over his decision-making involving a SWAT standoff where a suspect was killed.

In March 2008, the city hired Tandy Carter of North Carolina who was immediately put to work trying to fix manpower, communication, and leadership problems at the department.

Carter was fired for his overall actions, including his refusal to let the South Carolina Highway Patrol examine what happened with newly-elected Mayor Steve Benjamin's car crash with a woman the morning after election night.

Once Carter was out, Randy Scott made the move to the Columbia Police Department in 2010 as interim chief. At the time he was with the Richland County Sheriff's Department as chief deputy.

Scott was brought in just two days after Columbia City Council turned down the first proposal to have Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott oversee the police department. Months after being offered the interim job, Scott was announced as permanent chief.

But it was less than three years later when Scott, in a tearful news conference, decided to resign as chief.

Two weeks after leaving the police department, Scott was back with Richland County working as a deputy sheriff.

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