Bluffton Police Department Lt. Joe Babkiewicz, who was recently reprimanded and put on probation after leading an operation that resulted in an improper arrest, has been reassigned.
The former head of the Criminal Investigations Division will now lead the Emergency Management and Training Division — a move the department says is not a demotion.
“This change has has absolutely nothing to do with the Dec. 8 incident,” department spokeswoman Joy Nelson said Monday. “The two are not related at all.”
On Dec. 8, 2016, investigators from the department improperly arrested a man outside of their jurisdiction. The arrest was made in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island — county jurisdiction — without properly coordinating with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.
The alleged offender, Thomas M. Bush, was arrested in another incident two weeks later, by the sheriff’s office, for allegedly assaulting a woman — the same woman he allegedly assaulted on Dec. 5, which resulted in the earlier arrest in Sea Pines.
Bluffton police were already familiar with Bush, who had been arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder in a fatal shooting within their jurisdiction this past summer. Investigators were able to track him through his ankle monitor, which he wore as a condition of his September bond release in that case.
But, according to a sheriff’s office report, the county department knew nothing of Bluffton’s plans to come into its jurisdiction until about 15 minutes before the arrest. At that time, the team of investigators notified county dispatch it was in the area, and asked dispatch to notify the sheriff’s office and Sea Pines security. The team, led by Babkiewicz, said it did not need assistance from the sheriff’s office, according to county dispatch transcripts.
According to an internal memo written by Babkiewicz’s supervisor, Deputy Chief Joseph Manning, Babkiewicz “did not have a full understanding” of the state law he used to arrest Bush. Manning further noted that Babkiewicz should have had a deputy on scene before the arrest, and that the department’s warrant-service procedure would be amended.
Babkiewicz, who began working in Bluffton in 2008, has been placed on probation for 90 days.
His probationary status will not be impacted by the reassignment, Nelson said.
“He will remain on probation for the full 90-day period,” she said, but emphasized that the reassignment is “absolutely not a demotion.”
“We like to rotate our lieutenants (into different roles) to make sure they are as well-rounded as possible,” she said.
Babkiewicz has swapped assignments with Lt. Christian Gonzales, former Emergency Management and Training Division head and now the department’s lead criminal investigator.
Gonzales, who began his law enforcement career as a military police officer for the U.S. Marine Corps in 1996 before moving to the Beaufort Police Department in 2000 and the Bluffton Police Department in 2006, graduated late last year from the Federal Bureau of Investigations National Academy.
In his new role, Babkiewicz will oversee the department’s planning and response to “any possible disaster — it could be a natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake, or something like an tanker truck flipping over on the highway,” Nelson said.
He will also oversee officer training, school resource officers, crossing guards, and the department’s K9 unit, she said.