MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - State lawmakers from Horry County have asked for an outside investigation of the Horry County Police Department, and Thursday several of them explained that decision.
Discussion about having the State Law Enforcement Division investigate the Horry County Police came up at the August 17 meeting of the Horry County Legislative Delegation. Just days prior to the meeting, all of the lawmakers had received an unsigned letter full of accusations against the police department.
"The allegations were of such a nature that once you read the letter you didn't forget it right away," explained state Representative Alan Clemmons of Myrtle Beach.
Clemmons said the lawmakers discussed the letter for only a few minutes, and they decided unanimously to forward the letter to SLED for review and investigation.
"The concerns were of a weighty enough nature that the only prudent course the delegation could have taken - in my mind - is to refer it on to the agency that handles such complaints," Clemmons explained.
"If there is any bearing in fact behind the allegations they have been passed on to the appropriate authorities to vet those allegations with the Horry County Police Department and determine whether there is anything behind them."
Similar explanations of the decision process came from state Reps. Nelson Hardwick, Liston Barfield and George Hearn, and state Sens. Raymond Cleary and Luke Rankin, all of whom were at the delegation meeting. Hearn said he possibly would have objected if he had given more time and thought to the decision. He said he took issue with the anonymity of the letter.
Clemmons said no one like the fact the letter was unsigned.
"Anytime you receive an anonymous letter, the credibility of the author is called into question," Clemmons said.
However, Clemmons said the lawmakers felt the accusations were specific enough that SLED could investigate them.
"Heaven forbid there be a basis of fact behind the letter and we just throw it in the trash can," he said.
In the letter obtained from the legislative delegation office someone who claims to be an Horry County Police Department employee said "This department is out of control... No officer will come forward for fear of losing their jobs or worse… There are some in this department that think they are above the law."
The letter goes on to say some officers have interfered with police cases that involved themselves by deleting records and improperly removing evidence. The letter also claims officers misused county vehicles and broke other policies such as having relationships with other county employees that create a conflict of interest.
"You got a gut feeling that something's there," commented Hardwick.
As chairman of the legislative delegation, Hardwick agreed to forward the letter to SLED on behalf of the lawmakers.
"If you get an independent team in here I think we'll all be served better," Hardwick said. "Anybody who's got anything that they won't feel comfortable about saying in front of their supervisor or colleague can say it.
"Given the opportunity, the people who are doing the right thing will be exonerated, and anybody who's not doing the right thing hopefully will be caught up in this investigation. Then we can clean house, and everybody will be able to feel better about their Horry County Police when it's over."
Horry County Police declined to comment.
Horry County Council Chairman Tom Rice said in a written statement Thursday, "I have instructed the county administrator to oversee the completion of an internal county human resources investigation" of the allegations. Rice said county council member had also received the unsigned letter, and the county investigation was already underway before the legislative delegation's request to SLED.
SLED spokesperson Katherine Richardson said the agency had received the letter and was reviewing it. At this point an investigation has not started.