Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin says he anticipates a thorough investigation by state police into the city's police department.
And he's prepared to act on the outcome.
In a statement released Wednesday, the mayor stressed the importance of ensuring public trust in the police department, and said he's confident the State Law Enforcement Division, SLED, is very capable of reviewing charges and counter-charges over an alleged conspiracy to illegally change city personnel and positions.
Benjamin said he has no tolerance for corruption and if SLED's probe finds wrong-doing, he'll push for employee dismissals and prosecution.
The mayor emphasized it's important to remove politics from the investigation – as well as in cases such as the recent arrest of state NAACP President Lonnie Randolph.
Benjamin is uneasy that the city manager showed up at the scene where Randolph was arrested for disorderly conduct at a Five Points dry cleaners, and with the police chief's talk of not pursuing charges against Randolph before his court date because the civil rights leader's diabetes may have affected his behavior.
The mayor says there cannot be an appearance of favoritism in cases, and he plans to propose a policy that states an active crime scene is no place for politicians or administrators.
Police Chief Ruben Santiago says he agrees with the mayor about creating a policy to restrict crime scene access.
“We want to make sure that the public does trust what we're doing on the streets,” Santiago says. “And any time you have politicians or anyone of influence that is not law enforcement, there might be a group of people out there that would say that caused some kind of issue with the case – whether it was or wasn't. So just to make things clear, it's just easy to create a policy. And I think it's a great policy.”
Santiago also says he realizes the importance of not dropping the charges against Lonnie Randolph.
He agrees the case needs go through the judicial process.
And the chief says the public should not feel there was any favoritism shown toward Randolph – including when police took him to the hospital.
Santiago says officers are instructed to make sure a suspect's health and well-being are as much of a priority as possible.