Public safety director has lost the public's trust

Beaufort County's Phil Foot broke the rules when he intervened in an arrest. He should be demoted for it.

newsroom@islandpacket.comJune 27, 2014 

Those who hold the top posts at corporations and public institutions aren't just there because they're thought to be more knowledgeable and experienced than lower-level employees. They're also deemed to possess sound judgment, which they call upon to mitigate the inevitable troubles that arise.

Unfortunately, that sound judgment was nowhere to be found the night of Nov. 30 when Phil Foot, a high-ranking Beaufort County supervisor who oversees the county's detention center, intervened in the arrest of his stepdaughter.

Foot's stepdaughter, Lyndsay Danielle Cribb, 21, was in the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot on Bay Street when a man, identified as her former boyfriend, was arrested on an attempted-murder charge, according to police and jail records. Police ordered Cribb to leave the scene. But a short time later, she was spotted by a Beaufort police officer yelling from an SUV parked at the end of the parking lot. Continuing to shout, behaving uncooperatively and believed to be intoxicated, she was arrested for public drunkenness, according to police reports.

That's when things got sticky, and Foot's judgment went out the window. Foot called Cribb on her cell phone during the drive to the detention center. The arresting officer said she had a conversation with Foot, telling him that he could come to the center and personally book his daughter. But Foot claims that he understood the arresting officer to say that Cribb could be released to him outside of the detention center and taken home -- not taken to jail.

And that's just what happened. Video from that night shows Foot and his wife driving up in their personal vehicle, and Cribb being released to her mother. A few minutes later, the two women and Foot drove away.

"I had already advised Mr. Foot ... Cribb had to go to jail," the arresting officer later told investigators. "I never advised them that Cribb was free to leave."

While we could argue for endless hours over what the arresting officer and Foot thought was said during their conversation, such a discussion of semantics is beside the point. As the county's public safety director, Foot certainly knows the rules that he and police officers must follow. He would have known that anyone arrested -- including his own stepdaughter -- should be booked and taken to jail. In fact, as the jail's supervisor, Foot should have been doubly self-conscious of behaving in a way that could be interpreted as showing favor for a family member

He chose not to do that. His comment to investigators the next day seems to acknowledge this breach: "I am a father first ... My main focus was on my daughter at the time, and not my job or who I am."

Indeed, Foot has a responsibility to his family. He also has a responsibility to the people of Beaufort County who trust him to run the detention center in an impartial manner.

The incident was investigated by a third party, the State Law Enforcement Division, and determined not to be criminal by the state Attorney General's Office. While Foot's actions are not criminal, they cast doubt on his judgment. For this reason, we encourage county administrator Gary Kubic to demote Foot, removing him from his supervisory post over the detention center.

Parents never want to see their child carted off to jail. But no one wants a detention center supervisor who changes the rules, depending on who is wearing the handcuffs.

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