April 19, 2014

Former Chesterfield County sheriff sent to jail

Former sheriff of Chesterfield County, Sam Parker, will spend two years in prison after being convicted on eight public corruption charges Thursday.

Thursday night, a jury found Parker guilty of five counts of misconduct in office, two counts of furnishing contraband to inmates, and one count of embezzlement.  (More details)

State prosecutors said Parker gave away weapons and uniforms to friends.  Parker also allowed convicted Department of Corrections inmates to sleep and live outside Chesterfield jail without supervision, as well as being allowed to attend special events, in exchange for performing work on Parker’s house, personal property and within the sheriff’s office.  One of the privileged inmates turned on Parker and reported this behavior.

Gov. Nikki Haley removed Parker from office shortly after his March 2013 arraignment. He served as sheriff for about 10 years.

The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office also indicted former county jail director Ritchie Rollings and Harold Hainey of the county’s Emergency Management Department. Both were charged with misconduct in office. They have not been tried yet.

SC unemployment rate drops again in March

South Carolina’s unemployment trended to its lowest point ever in six years. According to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce, in March the state’s  seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fdecreased to 5.5 percent from February’s rate of 5.7 percent.

The last time the Palmetto State’s rate was at this level was in March 2008.

From February to March 2014, the number of unemployed persons declined by 5,077, to a level of 119,058. The estimated number of employed persons in March was 2,046,002, up 6,560 since February. This is the eighth consecutive monthly increase. From March 2013 to March 2014, an estimated 32,555 people have found work.

The labor force increased slightly in March, up by 1,483 to 2,165,060. Since March 2013 the labor force has declined by nearly 23,982 people, in part because of an increasing number of retirees in South Carolina.

Nationally, the unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7 percent in March.

South Carolina compared to national – through Feb. 2014

South Carolina monthly unemployment rate chart from 1990 to February 2014



Beaufort marine squadron returns from 9-month deployment

Photo by Cpl. Timothy Norris

Marine pilots with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312 are reunited with family as they return to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, April 17. Photo by Cpl. Timothy Norris.

Marines of fighter attack squadron 312 and their F/A-18 hornet jets are returning from a nine-month deployment in the Middle East. A U.S. Marine Corps spokeswoman says a small group of the marines returned to Beaufort Thursday.

The bulk of the squadron returns Friday

The squadron worked with the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in support of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, mainly maritime security operations.

This last mission also marked the last F/A-18 Hornet support of OEF.




Faith and football: Clemson says program is “compliant with Constitution”

Dabo sideline

Coach Dabo Swinney often speaks openly about his Christian faith.

Clemson University is disputing a freedom-from-religion group’s contention that football coach Dabo
Swinney is promoting a “Christian culture” on the team, and that violates the football players constitutional rights.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics has told Clemson that it believes Coach Swinney is promoting a culture in the football program that violates constitutional separation of church and state.

“Christian worship seems interwoven into Clemson’s football program,” stated the group’s attorney in a complaint letter.

The group claims that organized bible studies, devotionals, and the distributing of Bibles, and a team chaplain are activities that employees at a public university should not be involved in.

Clemson University released this statement to South Carolina Radio Network Wednesday:

We believe the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views. Participation in religious activities is purely voluntary, and there are no repercussions for students who decline to do so. We are not aware of any complaints from current or former student-athletes about feeling pressured or forced to participate in religious activities.

Clemson takes very seriously its obligation to provide a comprehensive program for the development and welfare of our student-athletes ­ which encompasses academic, athletic and personal support, including support for their spiritual needs.

We will evaluate the complaints raised in the letter and will respond directly to the organization, but we believe FFRF is mistaken in its assessment. The Supreme Court has expressly upheld the right of public bodies to employ chaplains and has noted that the use of prayer is not in conflict with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom.

DSS director: “I respectfully decline to resign,” while Haley, Shealy fight on Facebook (AUDIO)

Koller in hearing

Koller sits for three hours of questions

The state’s top child welfare official says she will not step down. After a long-awaited appearance in front of a special Senate panel, Department of Social Services Director Lillian Koller told media, “I respectfully decline to resign.”  That is despite two Democrats calling for her ouster as the panel probes the death of children in DSS care.

Otherwise, director Koller gave senators what they asked for: three hours of detailed testimony about how the agency handled two highly-publicized child death cases, her views on case overloads and defense of her leadership style.  Watch entire hearing here.

Immediately afterward, her boss, Gov. Nikki Haley applauded Koller. In a statement from her spokesman, Doug Mayer:

“Director Koller showed today exactly why the governor appointed her in the first place – she is a committed advocate for South Carolina’s children, and someone who has overseen dramatic improvement in an agency that deals with some of the toughest, most tragic situations in our state. Governor Haley is proud of Director Koller, the staff at DSS, and the changes they have made, changes that have resulted in a decrease in child fatalities, an increase in adoptions, and the ability to provide more services to children and families statewide than ever before.”

The real dust-up happened, however, on Facebook, where the rift between Gov. Haley and panel member (and her Senate ally) Katrina Shealy became public. Read The State’s recap. This tension had been simmering since Shealy began questioning the governor’s appointee months ago.

“Sometimes others in that process could have done more”

Lourie in committee

Lourie disagreed with some of Koller’s statistics

The panel made up of senators  Tom Young, R-Aiken, Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, and Joel Lourie, D-Richland, questioned Koller on the case of Robert Guinyard, a four-year-old who was beaten to death by his parents in 2013. Richland County Coroner Gary Watts opined in an earlier hearing that there was not enough oversight leading to his murder.

Koller disputed that, saying her agency’s wishes for the Guinyard’s parental rights to be terminated were overridden by a judge and the Richland County guardian ad litem program.

“When a tragedy like Robert’s takes place, someone has surely failed that child, first and foremost his parents who beat him to death,” Koller stated. “But sometimes others in that process as well, could have done more.”

She ordered an investigation into what happened and leveled some of the blame on law enforcement.

“The findings of the investigation…resulted in eight staff members no longer working at DSS, including many who failed to follow DSS established child protection protocol.” Koller said.

“I want you to know that we also found good work in Robert’s case, like the decision to go to court to free Robert and his sister,” she added.

AUDIO: Koller recaps Guinyard case (4:41)

This led to questioning of staff caseloads, a chronic complaint in hearings and in emails sent to the committee. Senators say they are concerned that stringent goals and statistical improvement are driving the agency–and driving workers away.

“I don’t think children should be considered goals. I think children are living, breathing human beings and not numbers,” challenged Sen. Shealy amidst scattered applause in the hearing room.

“I agree, I agree,” Koller shot back.”And if we don’t measure what we do and if we don’t be committed to improving the lives of children and we just hope and do the work and just hope it  comes out OK, you are not going to get good outcomes.”

Shealy countered,”But sometimes we let the numbers get in our way,”

“I have not done that ma’am.” Koller responded.

“Communities are a part of keeping children safe”
Another case under scrutiny involved the daycare death of 3-month-old Kellie Rynn Martin. Her mother testified that she saw the daycare listed on the DSS site.

Koller said that state law precluded DSS from inspecting the registered –not licensed– home daycare.

“We never got a complaint in seven years,” Koller said.

Prior to that, she says, there were complaints on the same home and they were corrected and “left alone.”

“We don’t get enough people calling in complaints,” Koller insisted. “Can you imagine the traffic of the parents coming and going of the parents picking these children up and dropping them off? Twenty-three children and there were supposed to be six there?”

“People need to understand that the communities are part of keeping children safe,” Koller told the senators.

Koller agreed to face the Senate panel again in two weeks.