Solicitor’s office: Not enough evidence to charge ex-MBPD officer fired for misconduct
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - The criminal investigation into a fired Myrtle Beach Police officer has been closed.
According to the 15th Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office, Justin Vasquez will not face criminal charges, due to “insufficient admissible evidence supporting a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt.”
WMBF Investigates last reported how the former Myrtle Beach Police officer was being investigated by the State Law Enforcement Division at the request of MBPD.
In July 2020, MBPD conducted an internal investigation after a citizen alleged Vasquez had taken photos under her skirt while in the process of getting her witness testimony. According to documents from the state’s criminal justice academy, Vasquez “was terminated based on compelled statement confirming the actions alleged by the complainant/victim.”
A civil lawsuit was then filed by the accuser in February while the SLED investigation continued.
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With the case now closed, WMBF Investigates was able to obtain SLED’s investigative report into Vasquez.
It describes the witness testimony and other evidence collected by Special Agent Jacqueline Gause. The report shows the unnamed alleged victim had told Myrtle Beach Police in July 2020 that Vasquez had “lifted up the back of her dress on two different occasions and either took a picture or a video of her rear end area using his cell phone.”
Myrtle Beach police began an internal investigation. Before Vasquez was officially interviewed or told of his Garrity Rights, he provided consent to an internal affairs lieutenant to search his personal cell phone, where nothing of value was discovered.
An interview under the premises of a Garrity Warning was then conducted, which led to Vasquez’s termination from the police department.
According to the letter sent by Chief Deputy Solicitor Scott Hixson to SLED, Garrity “stands for the rule that an employee has a right to not incriminate themselves in a criminal investigation due to the employer’s threat of termination for refusal to answer investigators questions.”
Because of this, the letter states, a compelled statement, like the one given by Vasquez, can’t be used as potential evidence to support any criminal charges.
Though SLED’s report discussed two searches of Vasquez’s phone - one by MBPD internal affairs, and the other by SLED - nothing incriminating was found, Hixson’s letter reads.
Gause had speculated in the report that the phone had been “cleaned,” but Hixson said there was not enough admissible evidence.
“If additional information does come to light that materially alters this position, we may revisit this decision,” Hixson’s letter concluded.
The civil suit continues in federal district court, which names the City of Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach Police Department, Justin Vasquez, Chief Amy Prock and Officer Haley Battles as defendants.
According to a scheduling order, discovery will be completed no later than November 29, 2021.
A spokesperson for Myrtle Beach Police said they do not typically comment on pending litigation.
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