Crime & Public Safety

Beaufort, Jasper counties dole out second chances to fired cops

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Local police ranks in Beaufort and Jasper counties include officers who were fired from previous law enforcement jobs in South Carolina.

Of 145 local police officers with past law enforcement experience in the state, 21 previously had been fired or resigned while facing disciplinary action. That's according to an analysis by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette of S.C. Criminal Justice Academy records from August to November 2015.

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Some were fired for lying and concealing information -- red flags that should have made any police chief wary of giving them a second chance, said Matthew Hickman, a criminal justice professor at Seattle University who studies officer decertification.

The analysis found one officer was fired after he asked drivers from out of the country to pay him cash rather than writing them speeding tickets. Another was forced to resign for forging another officer's signature on a sworn statement without his knowledge.

"That's the death sentence in law enforcement -- dishonesty," Hickman said of the falsified document. "We rely on officers to collect evidence, to give testimony. If their honesty is questioned, their credibility is undermined. ... That makes him pretty darn useless. I'd think any hiring (police) agency would be very concerned about that."

Police officers should be held to a high standard because of the power entrusted to them, including the right to use deadly force, added Seth Stoughton, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

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"I don't see how you can be an officer without credibility," Stoughton said. "Integrity is everything in law enforcement."

But D. Thomas Johnson, vice chairman of the Jasper County Council, said most of the local cases involved minor problems that shouldn't end good cops' careers. The Jasper County Sheriff's Office agrees, employing five of the officers who were given a second chance. A sixth officer is currently on leave after he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct during a raid of a Bluffton bar.

And the majority of officers in Beaufort and Jasper counties have not ever been fired. Two-thirds of the 436 local officers at the time of the analysis were working their first job as police officers and had no work histories to examine.

Giving second chances to the few who have gotten in trouble makes sense, Johnson said.

"I would rather have someone that gets rowdy in a bar and does a good job as a policeman than someone who has never done anything," he said. "The best way to never do anything wrong is to never do anything."

While some of the firings and disciplinary actions were for seemingly minor infractions -- one officer lost his job for shooting at an alligator in his backyard and another for interrupting a minister mid-sermon -- others were far more serious.

Size of area law enforcement forces*

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*Number of sworn and reserve officers and students

A BOTCHED INTERROGATION

On Sept. 1, 2012, Curtis Evans, a corporal with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, chatted with a murder suspect inside the Hilton Head Island police substation.

Evans was supposed to simply stand guard of the suspect, Aaron Young Sr., who was being held in the shooting death of 8-year-old Khalil Singleton.

But Evans' chatter with the suspect turned into unauthorized questioning, according to an internal investigation later conducted by the sheriff's office. And that gave way to false promises that would ultimately raise questions about the integrity of the investigation. It also collapsed a trial in the high-profile murder case.

In a recording captured on Evans' body microphone, he can be heard telling Young that he could avoid the murder charge if he cooperated with detectives. And when Young requests an attorney, Evans continues his questioning, failing to relay Young's request to investigators.

Young did cooperate -- revealing where a gun, a key piece of evidence, was hidden. He was charged with murder despite Evans' promise.

The problems didn't stop there.

During an internal investigation by the sheriff's office, Evans lied about the unauthorized interrogation. While he claimed to have made no promises to the suspect, the audio recording of the interview was discovered the day before the suspect's first trial was set to begin in April 2014.

The interrogation should have been processed as evidence so it could be heard by the prosecution and the defense.

Evans' behavior led to charges of coercion by Young's attorney and a months-long delay in the suspect's trial.

In addition to the delays, Evans' behavior cost taxpayers money. After the trial collapsed, a judge ruled to try the three suspects in the case separately instead of together.

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Evans was fired in May 2014 over the bungled investigation -- and hired by the Port Royal Police Department nine months later.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner and 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone declined to comment on Evans' re-hire. And efforts to reach Evans for comment were unsuccessful.

But Port Royal Police Chief Alan Beach defended his decision to hire Evans.

"I believed he deserved a second chance," Beach said, declining to comment further on the situation.

The chief added that he turns down many applications, particularly citizens with criminal records and no law enforcement experience.

But former cops are often given the benefit of the doubt, he said, because they can be re-trained.

"Everybody deserves a second chance," Beach said, before hesitating. "Well, not everybody."

"But we try to give them a second chance."

A SCARY RIDE IN A PATROL CAR

Officer George Rioux was terminated from the Port Royal Police Department on Dec. 17 for allegedly making unwanted sexual advances toward an acquaintance in his patrol car. He is accused of visiting the woman on the pretext of bringing her police reports, then driving her to a wooded area and making advances that "intimidated" and "frightened" her.

The S.C. Law Enforcement Division is continuing an investigation into the incident.

Rioux had previously resigned from the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office in 2013 after falsifying a sworn statement. He signed another officer's name without his knowledge on an affidavit about a failure to produce in-car recordings, according to records. He briefly worked for Yemassee police and the Colleton County Sheriff's Office before Port Royal hired him in November 2014.

Before the incident, the department considered Rioux one of its most active investigators.

"I'll be honest. I was impressed with Rioux during his time here," said Port Royal town manager Van Willis.

In 2011, he had also been one of three Beaufort County deputies to receive a bronze DUI Hero pin from the S.C. Department of Public Safety for making 10 to 24 DUI arrests the previous year.

Attempts to reach Rioux through Willis were unsuccessful.

The manager added that he did not think the department could have known Rioux would present problems from his past work history.

"I don't think one incident with one department would be a pattern with this particular officer," Willis said. "The hardest part of this job, and to be quite honest, any job, is dealing with personnel. The human factor is tricky."

"What looks good on paper doesn't always translate to a good employee."

AN EARLY MORNING WRECK

Beaufort County Sheriff's Office deputy Kurt Korinek got in his car and headed home from a party sometime after 3 a.m. on Saturday, April 10, 1993.

Korinek was off duty and out of uniform -- and not authorized to drive his patrol car for personal use.

As he headed eastbound on William Hilton Parkway past The Oaks Villas, he crashed into a Chevrolet S-10 pickup. His Ford Crown Victoria came to rest on its roof, damaged beyond repair, according to newspaper reports from the time.

Korinek and the pickup driver were both taken to Hilton Head Hospital and charged with DUIs. The department fired the deputy two days later -- after three years on the force and four more at other state agencies -- for unauthorized use of his vehicle.

While court records on the charge are not available, Tanner said Korinek was found not guilty of DUI. He was hired back in 1995 by then-Sheriff Carl "Mac" McLeod.

Tanner said that he couldn't speak for the decision to fire or re-hire Korinek since he was not the sheriff at the time.

But, he added, since rejoining the department, Korinek has proven to be an excellent officer and is now one of the longest-serving deputies in the civil division.

"Kurt Korinek was doing an outstanding job and has for almost 18 years for me," he said.

Korinek, who did not respond to requests for comment, is an anomaly. He is the only member of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office's ranks -- less than 1 percent of the force -- who has been previously fired from an S.C. law enforcement agency.

Because of its high starting salary of about $36,400, pay bumps for education and experience, and its solid reputation, the agency can afford to be picky. It puts its applicants through a rigorous series of tests. Would-be deputies must pass a polygraph test and undergo psychological analysis.

"We ask questions like, 'Have you ever stolen anything from a place that you work? Have you ever used drugs? Have you done anything at work that you were insubordinate for?" Tanner said.

They must also exhibit firearm proficiency before going through firearms training, complete an interview in front of a board and pass a written test. Deputy candidates are also subject to criminal and financial background checks and reference checks during which members of the sheriff's office interview applicants' neighbors.

Korinek, though, has been disciplined since re-joining the Sheriff's Office.

In 2002, he was warned for failure to supervise road patrols, reduced in rank and transferred to the civil division, where he remains today, according to the Sheriff's Office. Korinek was reportedly absent from his shift during working hours and not supporting his units while they were performing their duties, as well as not treating his officers equally, according to a disciplinary record.

Korinek's file has no information on his 1993 firing. Though his academy file includes one paper on the termination, there is no documentation of an academy review before he was re-hired.

Salaries for area law enforcement forces

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UNAUTHORIZED HELP FOR A FRIEND

At least eight of the 21 officers who have been given a second-chance job have since been disciplined.

They include Joab Dowling III, who was fired from the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office in 2006 for threatening members of the Port Royal Police Department with violence using his in-car dispatch system. He was then hired by the Port Royal Police Department in 2008 on a three-year probationary period.

In January 2015, he was reprimanded for insubordination.

Dowling had told his Port Royal supervisors that he planned to attend the trial of a friend to simply show support. It was Christmas time and his intentions were mostly "spiritual," he had told his supervisor.

But Dowling did a lot more than that, putting up $2,500 to bail his friend out of jail. The friend, Matthew Rausch, was a former Beaufort police officer accused of verbally abusing his wife, binding her with duct tape, sexually battering her and threatening her life.

Dowling's actions, a supervisor later said, were an "egregious and blatant disregard" of an order not to involve himself in Rausch's case.

When a supervisor learned Dowling had posted Rausch's bond, Dowling was suspended for two days.

"I feel as though you were deceitful in your requests and took advantage of my confidence that you would not discredit me and the police department by your actions," wrote Capt. John Griffith in a disciplinary report on Dowling.

"Very poor judgment," Beach remarked in Dowling's file. "Will not happen again."

Efforts to reach Dowling were unsuccessful.

Research is inconclusive and professional opinions are split on whether officers who have been fired are more likely to get in trouble on the job again.

Hickman, the Seattle University professor, said it's just common sense that they are.

"So all I can surmise is that (the Port Royal Police Department) judged it was an acceptable risk and he was a worthy hire."

"Why they did that, I don't know."

Dowling was hired by former police Chief Jim Cadien, not the current chief, Beach.

But Beach noted last week that all chiefs face the same hard decisions when faced with the option of hiring a disciplined cop.

"I wish I could look into the future and know how the officers are going to behave when we go to hire them, but it's just not the way it works," Beach said. "They could be excellent officers for five years or 10 years, and then something life-changing happens and they just make a bad judgment call."

Police agencies must carefully examine not only the reason an officer is fired but the context, particularly what responsibility supervisors bear, said William Gaut, a former police commander and national expert witness in officer misconduct cases. Is improper training to blame? Did an officer act with malice? Or did they make a simple mistake?

"If it involves an intentional violation of integrity, then as far as I know, that's pretty much a disqualifier" from being rehired, Gaut said.

He added that even a case like Rioux's firing for forging a signature, which "sounds horrendous," can have extenuating circumstances.

"It's complicated, to say the least," Gaut said.

And while officers must have exemplary integrity, Johnson, of Jasper County, said he will always take a good cop with a few flaws over the opposite.

"When it comes to perfection, I don't think anyone can be held to that standard," Johnson said.

Reporter Caitlin Turner contributed to this report. Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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