A Highway Patrol sergeant from Florence used a South Carolina House oversight committee meeting Monday to publicly resign from the agency.
Sgt. David Whatley said he has grown frustrated with the Department of Public Safety’s direction ever since Director Leroy Smith was appointed to the job in 2012. Whatley delivered criticism of the department while talking to the committee, insisting the situation at DPS was even worse than findings from an audit last month which showed low morale and high turnover among troopers.
He then turned around and handed his resignation directly to Smith as the director sat behind him.
“(The director) does not have our backs. He might say it here… but actions are louder than words,” Whatley told the panel. “If you don’t believe me, just ask out there… People are scared of that man. They’re scared to come forward because of the vindictiveness nature we’ve seen.”
Whatley — a nearly 29-year employee of Highway Patrol– said troopers like himself are unhappy with how discipline is handled. He claimed paranoia in the agency is caused by the perception that higher-ups overreact to minor violations. As a result, he said troopers will sometimes let potential problem cases such as a combative fleeing suspect go without pursuit because they are nervous about potential violations in the field.
“With the troopers worried about what’s going to happen to them for a policy violation, if they hesitate to act in a deadly force violation… you really could lose a trooper’s life,” he said.
Whatley complained of his own discipline case which has lasted for three years after the agency said he failed to turn over video from a DUI case to a subordinate. The sergeant insisted under oath the accusation was false and stemmed from actions he took when he stopped a drunk driver while off-duty and instead turned it over to prosecutors. However, he said his appeal options were limited and he was not allowed to talk to his superiors or the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) which was investigating him.
“People don’t like to be arrested,” Whatley said. “But when they start using our own agency against us in the complaint process, and (agency leadership) show favoritism to the defendant over us, that’s where you get discord in our agency.”
Legislators looking into the agency have strongly criticized Smith, appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley in 2012, for more than a year. Members of the House even tried to withhold Smith’s salary from the budget this year, but the Senate refused to go along with the idea.
The House Oversight Committee approved a report critical of the agency and Smith’s leadership Monday.
“It’s something that’s changed in the last few years,” State Rep. Eddie Tallon, R-Spartanburg, said. “And it’s not good for the Highway Patrol. But, more importantly, it’s not good for the citizens of South Carolina. We the citizens of South Carolina and the taxpayers are getting shortchanged.”
Smith has defended himself, saying the agency has been able to do its job despite struggles recruiting troopers to the full 850 lawmakers have allocated in their budget. He revealed several changes Monday made in response to a state Inspector General’s audit showing low morale and high dissatisfaction among low-level employees. Among the changes designed to improve attitudes are new employee advisory councils and anonymous suggestion boxes at troop offices across the state. He also indicated Monday next year’s budget request would seek to replace troopers’ shotguns with assault rifles.