State lawmakers ask SLED to investigate Horry County police

From The Myrtle Beach Herald

By Kathy Ropp and Charles D. Perry
The Herald

Local lawmakers want the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate allegations of misconduct involving Horry County police officials, according to public records.

The county's legislative delegation unanimously voted to ask SLED to look into the accusations, which were made in an anonymous letter that was sent to area leaders.

The author of that letter claims to be an employee of the police department who is frustrated with other officers' conduct.

"This Department is out of control," the letter states. "No Officer will come forward for fear of losing their jobs or worse. The sled or FBI need to investigate. I as well as other officers will not lie for them under oath."

State Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Surfside Beach, sent a letter to SLED director Mark Keel on Aug. 30 about the delegation's concerns.

"This letter has some serious allegations and while I normally do not pay much attention to anonymous letters I felt this matter was important enough to discuss at our last Delegation meeting," Hardwick wrote.

Kathryn Richardson, a SLED spokeswoman, confirmed that the agency had received the request, but she didn't elaborate on what SLED would do.

"It's under review," she said.

Horry County Council Chairman Tom Rice also acknowledged that he had seen the letter. However, when asked if he was concerned about it, Rice said, "It's an unsigned letter that contains allegations, many of which are a decade old and have already been investigated."

County police chief Johnny Morgan said he was unaware of the delegation's concerns.

"I haven't heard anything from SLED," he said. "I haven't heard nothing from anybody."

The unsigned letter states that the author and other officers had hoped an outside agency would investigate the department after a controversy erupted earlier this year over the nomination of a former county police officer for a magistrate's position in Georgetown County.

The former officer withdrew his name from consideration after embarrassing records about his past were released. The letter writer said the former officer was treated unfairly by people inside the police department.

The letter also describes reports of domestic violence calls at an officer's home being purged from the county's records system; drugs and money disappearing from the evidence room; and instances of officers traveling to motorcycle rallies in county vehicles.

In an interview with the Herald, Hardwick said he agreed to get SLED involved because of the claims made in the letter.
"It seemed to be some pretty serious allegations," he said. "They were talking about destroying evidence and couple other things like that. … If there's anything to it, it needs to be addressed."

If the allegations are false, Hardwick said, SLED should send a report back to the delegation that says there's no evidence to support the letter's claims.

State Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, told the Herald that there have been more complaints than a single anonymous letter. He said he's heard concerns about the department from magistrates, police officers and Horry County Council members.

"If it was just one letter, it would be different," he said. "This isn't done lightly."

Cleary said state Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Myrtle Beach, made the motion to request SLED's involvement, but not before consulting with several police officers.

Rankin could not be reached for comment.

Cleary also insisted that the request for the SLED investigation has nothing to do with the controversy involving the magistrate's post in Georgetown County. It was his nominee who drew the intense criticism.

Like Hardwick, Cleary said he felt obligated to forward the letter to SLED.

"If SLED proves that there aren't [problems]," he said, "then everybody can sleep well at night."