CPD captain: Santiago wanted me to plant gun, drugs in top city official's car

Published: Jul. 15, 2013 at 6:03 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 20, 2013 at 6:22 PM EDT
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David Navarro
David Navarro
Jody Barr sat down with David Navarro on Sunday to listen to his side of the story.
Jody Barr sat down with David Navarro on Sunday to listen to his side of the story.
Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago
Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago
Assistant City Manager Allison Baker
Assistant City Manager Allison Baker
Former Police Chief Randy Scott
Former Police Chief Randy Scott

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A former member of the Columbia Police Department command staff says he was removed from his job last week just hours after reporting to the State Law Enforcement Division and the department's Internal Affairs division a plan to plant a stolen gun and cocaine in a city official's car, which would set off a series of events resulting in a change in leadership within the city manager's office and inside the police department.

In a sworn affidavit, Captain David Navarro says he was approached 6 to 8 months ago by then-Deputy Police Chief Ruben Santiago to help set up Assistant City Manager Allison Baker to get fired. Once the pieces fell into place, according to Navarro, the scheme, nicknamed "Black Ops," would result in then-Police Chief Randy Scott moving into Baker's job and Santiago later being named police chief.

Navarro says after attempting to speak to City Manager Teresa Wilson about the matter on July 9, and reporting the plan to Internal Affairs and SLED on July 10, he was suspended without pay pending an investigation at 10:30 a.m. on July 10.

Navarro is commander of the Community Services Division, which consists of the Warrant Team, P.A.C.E. Team, K-9 Unit, Police Athletic League and Drug Suppression Team.

The 34-year law enforcement and military veteran says he and Santiago had three meetings to discuss the elaborate "Black Ops" plan. Each time, Navarro says, he told Santiago he was not going to be involved.

Navarro says Santiago would check Navarro's phone each time the two met to make sure the conversation wasn't being recorded and then tell his counterpart he was 'just joking.'

The plan, according to Navarro, was he would use his position as commander of the drug suppression team to gain access to a stolen gun and powder cocaine from a future crime scene.

"Santiago told me the next time a case involving cocaine and a stolen gun came in, that he and I would go to the scene, take control of the scene and send the officers away," the affidavit states.

"We would remove a gun and powder cocaine from that scene and he would then place those into Assistant City Manager Allison Baker's car," the affidavit continues. "Santiago said he could claim that an anonymous tip led him to direct other officers to search Allison Baker's car."

"In specifics, He didn't just tell me a gun, he told me, 'Dave, it must be a stolen gun,' and he also said cocaine and I asked him that question: 'Why cocaine, chief?' Nobody will believe that Mr. Allison Baker would use crack cocaine," Navarro told WIS during an interview on Sunday.

Navarro says the end result of the plan was to move then-Chief Randy Scott into Baker's position freeing up the police chief's job to be Santiago's. For his trouble, Navarro says he would be named number two in the department.

Shortly after the first conversation between Navarro and Santiago, Scott left the department after a short leave of absence citing stress and PTSD. After Scott left and Santiago took the reins of the department on an interim basis, two more conversations about the "Black Ops" plan took place, Navarro says.

"Santiago stressed to me that he was going to teach me what he called 'how to play chess, trust him only,'" the affidavit states. And "he had Internal Affairs under his control."

"There was no doubt in my mind that he [Santiago] meant what he was planning to do," said Navarro. "He meant it and he was going to carry it through if he found the right person to do it with, but Dave Navarro was not going to be the person to do that for him."

"I blew the whistle on Ruben Santiago 100 percent," said Navarro. "The only reason, right now, I'm suspended without pay and have no idea why I'm being suspended for is because Ruben Santiago is trying to work another scheme as the one he was trying to work on Mr. Baker and try to figure out what can he fabricate on Dave Navarro so he can do whatever it is he's going to try to do an retaliate against Dave Navarro and his family."

"I'm very angry. I'm disgusted. I'm very sick. I haven't been able to sleep, I haven't been able to eat because I'm very concerned about it," said Navarro. "I'm the main provider in my family. After 20 years of military service and then 14 years—that's 34 years of serving my country and my community. This is not the way I wanted my law enforcement career to end."

Navarro has been with the Columbia Police Department for approximately two and a half years. Before that, he served as Fort Jackson's police chief for a short period of time and spent over eight years with the Richland County Sheriff's Department. Prior to his law enforcement career, spent two decades in the armed forces.

A SLED spokesperson says they are looking into the matter, but have not initiated a formal investigation.

"We have received an allegation involving the Columbia Police Department," said Thom Berry. "We are looking into the allegation, but have not begun an investigation. If the determination is made that an investigation is appropriate, we will do so. Since all we have is an allegation, it would be inappropriate to discuss any specifics of the allegation or what SLED's actions may be."

A meeting is planned for Tuesday between Navarro's attorney and the city, according to Navarro.

We have reached out to Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson and Interim Chief Reuben Santiago for a response to these allegations.

Wilson said she refuses to speak with Jody Barr. She will not let Ruben Santiago speak with Barr either. Wilson offered to make herself available to another WIS reporter.

Our Meaghan Norman went to City Hall and spoke with both Wilson and Santiago.

Santiago says the allegations are puzzling to him.

"I actually considered him a very close friend of mine, so I'm very, very surprised at the same time, concerned and hurt and puzzled -- that's the big statement -- puzzled as to why this, his lateral move, was such a big deal," said Santiago.

Santiago contends moving Navarro from commander of the Community Services Division to Captain over the West Region created animosity.

"For the things he's alleged, I find myself trying not to laugh at that," said Santiago. "You're talking about something you'd see on television."

Santiago calls them false, malicious allegations.

"I find it ridiculous that somebody would even say that," said Santiago. "It's very disturbing that he would bring those allegations up. I would like to see if he has something to back up or substantiate that. What he's alleging is criminal. He's trying to discredit me."

Wilson calls Navarro's recent behavior, "bizarre" and against city policy.

"I am comfortable, quite confident with the way we've documented and handled this termination up to this point because they are for acts he did -- clearly," said Santiago.

Wilson says Navarro was fired for several reasons such as insubordination, including resisting change and spreading rumors, the unauthorized recording of a phone conversation between Navarro and then-Deputy Chief Santiago, and shredding unknown documents.

"He proceeded to discredit why or have angst about the move. In addition to that, he began rumors and innuendos, accusations, really bizarre behavior from my standpoint," said Wilson. "From a management standpoint, I don't tolerate that kind of behavior. We don't have time for that anywhere in the city."

Santiago says the recorded phone conversation was about Navarro's move to the West Region.

"You can hear the phone ringing and then me picking up and having a conversation about it," said Santiago. "He kept going on using foul language. You can tell he was up and down and I kept telling him: David this is positive."

Wilson and Santiago say that recording happened in January. Navarro says he was approached several times in recent months by Santiago to conspire against Baker. The city says the timing of his actions and accusations are suspicious.

"If you look at the timeline, it's retaliatory," said Santiago. "It's retaliatory because he did not want to change."

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