Liz Farrell

Why this reckless, childish 3-week run for Bluffton Town Council should bother you | Opinion

Editor’s note: A back-end programming glitch led to hyperlinked text throughout this column getting replaced with unrelated hyperlinked text from other places in the column. This has been corrected.

Crime in Bluffton is “10 times worse” than we know, according to Department of Natural Resources volunteer, businessman and real estate agent Nickey Maxey, who, on Aug. 22, announced he was seeking a seat on Bluffton Town Council.

In an Aug. 29 interview with two Island Packet reporters, Maxey called local law enforcement “lacking.”

Drugs are everywhere, he said.

“We’ve got robberies on a constant basis.”

But, he said, Bluffton does not need more police officers; it needs “quality” ones with “proper training,” such as those at SLED or DNR, where he sits on the Law Enforcement Advisory board and serves as a volunteer officer.

Maxey told reporters that he is a retired Tennessee highway patrolman and, as such, public safety has long been his passion.

The local police department, he said, ought to be proactive.

Officers should talk to 100 residents a day and be visibly present in the community, such as in bars, he said, where they would notice when someone is too drunk to drive and stop that person from getting behind the wheel.

Maxey said his desire to make a change is why he felt compelled to run for council.

“If you’ve got things that are broken,” he said, “you fix it.”

You might not have noticed Maxey’s campaign, though.

It lasted just 22 days.

On Sept. 13, he announced he would be dropping out of the race because he had met with Town Administrator Marc Orlando and Police Chief Chris Chapmond and, he said, “I am pleased with the progress they have made in this area.”

One explanation for this sudden about-face might be that Maxey’s speeches (there were none) and his rallies (none of those, either) and his campaign materials (his Facebook page went live on Sept. 9) were so inspiring that they prompted Orlando and Chapmond — in the week before and the week after Beaufort County was under a state of emergency for Hurricane Dorian — to work like magical little elves in Santa’s Factory and solve Bluffton’s apparent crime and policing problems in absolute record time.

Another explanation might be this one:

The day before Maxey filed to run for council, his 19-year-old son was arrested and charged by a Bluffton police officer with driving under the influence.

And the night before Maxey dropped out of the council race, the Town of Bluffton fulfilled a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Packet on Aug. 23 and released emails and texts that showed Maxey was not only pressuring Orlando to do something about his son’s arrest, he was threatening him.

This is the South, though. Maxey was somewhat polite and certainly unspecified about it.

He believed deeply in his son’s innocence and felt that his son had been unjustly arrested.

“I’m sorry to bother you with this but if they continue to go down this road, it’s not going to end well,” Maxey wrote at the end of an email to Orlando the day after his son was released from jail.

Maxey followed up days later with a text to Orlando that included a screenshot showing six mugshots from the Beaufort County Detention Center.

Maxey’s son was pictured on the bottom right.

“How would you feel right now receiving this if your child was abused. Humiliated, scarred for life with his photo all over hell. Put in the back seat of cruiser and asked if they could loosen the cuffs. NO. Sat in cold cell with hardened criminals for hours and would not let anyone call us. Then see him brought into court with orange jump suit and leg shackles and handcuffs.

“My family has been hurt and everyone is sitting on their ass. This is not going to end well for anyone involved the longer this stews. You have known me a long time.”

‘You can’t just drive me home?’

Maxey’s son was pulled over on S.C. 170 shortly after midnight Aug. 21 by a Bluffton police officer named Baker Odom.

The teen, driving a month-old red Jeep Gladiator without the proper license plate, had drifted out of his lane and then overcorrected while attempting to re-center the vehicle, according to Odom’s report.

According to the police report and video, Maxey’s son, who was well-mannered and at times appeared frightened but blamed the swerve on his passenger trying to kiss him, twice denied having had anything to drink that night.

Odom took the teen’s license and what appears to be a registration card for a Ford F-150 and went to his patrol car.

When he returned to the Jeep, the teen asked, “So we’re all good?”

They were not all good.

“Mr. Maxey, can you step out of the car for me?”

At first, the teen refused to exit the vehicle, but “eventually he complied,” Odom wrote in his report, noting he had detected the odor of alcohol in the vehicle, and the teen “appeared to be disoriented.”

During the field sobriety test, the teen asked Odom, “Am I doing a bad job?”

When Odom instructed him to look up, the teen instead said, “I appreciate everything you do, sir.”

After the teen was handcuffed, he asked Odom, “Are y’all arresting me?”

He became visibly upset.

When Odom asked again how much he had had to drink that night, Maxey’s son admitted to having “three beers 30 minutes to an hour earlier.”

“I wish y’all would just take me home,” he told Odom.

Again and again he blamed the swerving on the passenger, and he lamented that this was happening on his dad’s birthday.

“Your dad’s a good guy,” Odom told him. “Believe me, I don’t get any joy out of doing this to his kin.”

After Maxey’s son was placed in the backseat, he asked again, “So you can’t just drive me home?”

In the teen’s truck, police found an unopened can of alcoholic seltzer, an unloaded shotgun and his father’s gold DNR badge.

On the ride to the police station, the teen apologized to Odom and told him he normally doesn’t lie, but said he listens to his dad and his dad told him, “If you ever get pulled over and you’ve been drinking, you ...”

I would share the rest of that statement with you if I could, but at this point in the video, the teen’s voice becomes inaudible. Seconds later, Odom is heard saying, “Yeah, yeah. We record everything.”

At the station, while waiting to take a breathalyzer test, Maxey’s son told Odom, “I really wanted to be a cop, but with all the body cameras and stuff, you really can’t do the right thing sometimes. In the situation I’m in, I’d probably just drive the person home.”

Maxey’s son blew a zero.

He repeatedly denied having used any drugs.

“I’ve never smoked marijuana in my life,” he told Odom.

When he learned Odom was taking him to the hospital for a urine test, however, he admitted to “dabbing” on a CBD oil pen four days earlier. He later said it was “two weeks ago,” then a “month ago,” then, finally, “yesterday.”

On the ride to the hospital, Odom expressed doubt about the teen’s honesty.

“I didn’t know you were going to pee-test me. I was trying to be smart,” Maxey’s son said in explanation for his changing stories.

At the hospital, a certified drug recognition expert from Bluffton Police, who described Maxey’s son as “animated and jittery” and “initially cooperative but argumentative,” concluded the teen was “not able to operate a vehicle safely.”

The officer also noted that the teen “repeatedly talked over officers” and “continually interrupted” them.

Police took two swabs of what they said was white powder on one of the teen’s nostrils and what Maxey’s son said was Flonase.

He was then taken to Beaufort County Detention Center.

He was released less than five hours later.

Too ‘pretty’ for jail

Hours before his son was released from jail — and before the teen’s 8 a.m. bond hearing — Nickey Maxey texted a screenshot of his son’s mugshot to Orlando.

“Call me please”

“Does he look drunk?? Blew 00.”

Then Maxey wrote a single word, “Odum,” a reference to police officer Baker Odom.

I do not know if Maxey purposely misspelled Odom’s last name in an attempt at onomatopoeia, but this is not the first rodeo these two men have attended together.

In August 2018, Odom pulled over a Bluffton woman who had driven through a stop sign at 60 mph in Old Town and charged her with driving under the influence, speeding, disregarding a stop sign, simple possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

On the ride to the police station, the woman told Odom he shouldn’t arrest her because she is a “very clean, thoroughbread white girl.”

The 32-year-old woman gave other reasons the law did not apply to her, all related to her days in high school and college: She used to be a cheerleader, a sorority sister, a National Honors Society member ...

“I’m a pretty girl,” she said. “Please don’t make me go in there.”

Her arguments were lost on Odom, and the ridiculous story of her arrest went viral.

At the end of August, the woman cut a deal that eliminated all of her charges except the one related to her DUI, which was reduced to under .15 (she had blown a .18).

The most relevant part of this story here, though, is that this woman thought she was due special treatment from Bluffton Police because her “partner is a cop.”

This woman’s business partner was Nickey Maxey.

‘Top-level DNR across the state’

On the afternoon of his son’s arrest, Maxey texted Orlando that he planned to file an internal affairs complaint with the Bluffton Police Department.

He was angry that his son was still charged with DUI despite the breathalyzer exonerating him.

In his correspondence with Orlando, Maxey appeared convinced that Odom saw the breathalyzer results and had to “rapidly find something else” to peg on his son.

“Odom screwed up,” Maxey wrote, “and panicked.”

On the night of his son’s arrest, he texted Orlando: “Phone has been ringing from top level DNR across the state. ... (My son) is best friends w/colonel’s son. We go on trips hunt fish etc. Just not fair to allow one bad guy to do this kind of thing.”

He indicated to Orlando that Chief Chapmond had watched the video and saw signs that his son might have been impaired by marijuana.

“I call bs and covering their ass but we will see when I get the lab core results,” he wrote.

In an email earlier that day, he told Orlando that if his son had made an error, “We would not be here having this discussion. It would be pleading for forgiveness. ”

His son, he wrote, “is not a drug user and never has been. He admitted to taking two puffs on a pen in harbortown with a bunch of people.”

That morning Maxey had taken his son from the detention center to a lab to have him tested, but it’s not clear whether the tests were for the same substances Bluffton Police had suspected him of using.

Police are still waiting on the results from their evidence, which was sent to SLED and the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Forensics Lab.

Bluffton Police maintain that Odom had probable cause to arrest Maxey’s son.

No internal affairs investigation has been opened.

Maxey’s son’s case, it seems, is being handled the way any of ours would be.

Fortune and favor

Maxey is a prolific businessman who has seen high highs and low lows over the course of his career.

He is, by all accounts, a successful real estate agent.

He can often be seen around town bending the ears of those who are politically connected, both at the local and state levels.

But when it seemed he did not have enough power to get what he wanted this time, he had a very bad idea about how to change that.

His behavior toward town officials was entitled.

Not only did Maxey waste Orlando’s time, he put him in a precarious position by trying to leverage their friendship and by reminding Orlando of his “top-level” political connections. The hint there perhaps being, “These important people are watching to see how you help me out.”

What’s worse, Maxey repeatedly threatened a public official. Sure, it wasn’t a specific threat of action, but “this will end bad for anyone involved” is the kind of sign-off the Joker would use if the Joker had an email account.

That Maxey seemed to think becoming a Town Council member might be a viable solution to his problem should be insulting to the mayor and four council members.

And it should cause constituents to pause — because what does that say about current practices?

No town councilman nor any member of that councilman’s family — no matter how distant or tenuous the connection — ought to be using that position to get out of an arrest or even a ticket. No Bluffton police officer should be looking the other way on behalf of any elected leader in Bluffton. And no town employees should ever fear for their jobs because they refuse to carry out this kind of corruption.

So let’s hope that’s not happening.

In his bid for Town Council, Maxey appeared to be gearing up to use public fear about crime as a bargaining chip to get special treatment from Orlando and Chapmond.

You won’t help me? Fine. Hey everyone! Your town is Gotham City.

This is an interesting pack of matches for a real estate agent to be playing with, no?

What’s more, he’s a seasoned law enforcement retiree — a badge-carrying member of the law enforcement arm of the DNR, which investigates serious crimes in this county, such as boating under the influence cases involving death — who is saying that crime in this area is out of control.

Worse, behind the scenes he is insinuating that a Bluffton police officer is manufacturing a reason to justify an arrest.

His experience in law enforcement gives his opinions gravitas.

But that, too, is a problem.

According to Lt. Bill Miller, public information officer for the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Maxey began as a highway patrolman in July 1978 and was “separated from” the department in August 1988.

“He would not have qualified as ‘retired’ with only 10 years,” Miller wrote to me in an email.

Maxey’s decision to run for Town Council was not what it appeared to be.

He preyed upon the public’s trust, abused his positional power to settle a personal score and disregarded the seriousness of a role he said he was seeking in good faith in a small, prosperous and growing town that needs strong and honest leadership.

“My kids are my life,” he wrote to Orlando. “And (I) will fight till I die for them.”

Maxey fiercely loves his son. This much is clear.

And perhaps this father’s love was so strong it blinded him to all the china he was breaking in service of protecting the teen.

But it doesn’t change the fact that it was reckless, childish and wrong.

Columnist and senior editor Liz Farrell graduated from Gettysburg College with a degree in political science and writes about a wide range of topics, including Bravo’s “Southern Charm.” She has lived in the Lowcountry for 15 years, but still feels like a fraud when she accidentally says “y’all.”