School board member Michael Rivers did not threaten to use a gun at a Veterans Affairs facility, contrary to what a federal employee told local law enforcement last month, according to a report on the incident.
That allegation, refuted in the finished Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office report released Sept. 16, stemmed from a phone call the VA crisis line received Aug. 24 from Rivers, a longtime Beaufort County school board member and candidate for state office. An investigation revealed very different accounts of Rivers’ 11-minute conversation.
The 57-year-old, who’s running as a Democrat for the District 121 seat of the S.C. House of Representatives and served in the U.S. Air Force, was reportedly upset about his benefits when he made the call, the report states.
After Rivers hung up, the caseworker’s supervisor, a law enforcement liaison, told the Sheriff’s Office that he “advised that he had a weapon (a handgun) near him and was going to use it at an unspecified VA facility,” according to the initial report, released Aug. 26.
That’s not what the caseworker herself remembers from the call, according to the final report. She told deputies Rivers answered “yes” to several standard crisis-line questions, including whether he had a firearm and whether he was homicidal, then hung up without answering further questions.
“Michael did not make any specific threats towards anyone, any location, or any type of weapon he would use with regards to the homicidal thoughts,” the caseworker told deputies.
The supervisor’s report to law enforcement triggered a series of events to track down Rivers. Deputies went on the lookout for his car, tracked his phone, contacted police in Walterboro and Colleton County, dropped by his house and eventually pulled Rivers over in Beaufort. The school board member denied making any threats.
He said this week he does not remember why he would have answered “yes,” when asked if he was homicidal but points to the Sheriff’s Office report as “vindication” that he had no intentions to harm anyone.
“Veterans are supposed to have an outlet of anonymity,” Rivers said. “It’s been nightmarish. The whole thing was preposterous.”
The case has been administratively closed by the Sheriff’s Office, though it is still waiting to receive the VA’s report on Rivers’ call.
Rivers says the call should have remained confidential, and that he faults one person alone — the VA supervisor who incorrectly described the call to deputies.
Despite support from friends and community members, Rivers said he’s still feeling the sting of what he calls a false report — including allegedly being banned from Beaufort Naval Hospital.
“It’s bad enough the confidentiality was breached, but then to be slandered and falsely accused and have a defamation of my character — there’s some who would believe the worst,” he said.