Crime and Justice: Conundrums in Columbia – SC Interim Police Chief Forgets First Amendment

Interim Columbia PD Chief Ruben Santiago. Photo Credit - The State

Interim Columbia PD Chief Ruben Santiago. Photo Credit – The State

     I remember Columbia. I was stationed at Fort Jackson in 2000, and had a few opportunities to drive around that fine city. The mall was huge, the weather was nice, and the people I met were gracious. All in all, my impression of the “Palmetto State” capital was a good one. That being said, these fine people don’t deserve to have to suffer someone like their current Interim Police Chief, Ruben Santiago. Issues are swirling around Santiago and the department, like moths around a street light on a sultry South Carolina night.

     Back in July of this year, a recently-dismissed CPD captain openly accused chief Santiago of corruption, in an alleged scheme to frame Senior Assistant City Manager Alison Baker, Santiago’s supervisor at City Hall, on drug and weapons charges. (1) According to South Carolina news website “The State,” City Manager Teresa Wilson has dismissed the former captain’s allegations as false, questioning their timeliness. Flash forward four months, and enter Brandon Whitmer.

     On Friday, the Columbia PD posted news of a sizable marijuana seizure and subsequent arrest on its Facebook page. (2) Among the comments in response to this “semi-official” press release, one Brandon Whitmer posted the following comment:

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     In response to Mr. Whitmer, Interim Chief Santiago posted back:

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     According to news sources, (3) (4) the chief’s comment was deleted shortly thereafter, by department spokesperson Jennifer Timmons, who administers the department’s Facebook page along with Santiago. Oh, but the chief couldn’t leave it at that;

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     In the ensuing “fit hitting the shan,” Timmons stated that she had in fact, deleted Santiago’s first comment, because she “…thought it was best to do that until I got a better understanding of what he was trying to say and to set the record straight.” Indeed, Santiago’s second post was made after he and Timmons had spoken on the phone. Santiago further stated to media that the comments were posted late at night, while he was watching television and accessing Facebook on his computer.

[SOAPBOX=ON]

     I can’t even begin to tell you, my fine young readers, the myriad of problems that I have with this one…but I’ll do my level best to try. First, I have a problem with anyone in a position of authority, who would use their position to even suggest that they would seek to oppress (“We will work on finding you.”) the citizenry simply due to their views on something. Second, and this is in my own, not-so-humble opinion, Interim Chief Santiago is a blithering idiot. Just because someone advocates for the legalisation of marijuana, does not mean that they also imbibe, contrary to his “putting everyone on notice.” Evidently, this guy has no idea what the meaning of “reasonable suspicion” actually entails. Who put this flake in charge? (For the record, I’ve supported the legalisation of marijuana, ever since Proposition 215 came along in the mid-90’s. I personally feel that it should be completely de-criminalised, taxed and regulated, using the profits to help balance the stupid budget. Do I smoke pot? No. I drink alcohol once in a blue moon and I smoke cigarettes, 1/2 pack-a-day habit, but no. I don’t use marijuana. It’s not a personal choice that’s right for me at this time in my life. Oh, and I have no wants, warrants, misdemeanors, felonies, tickets or accidents. My record is whiter than the driven snow.)

     This whole business of Timmons having to follow Santiago and his verbal incontinence around the Facebook page with her finger on the “delete” button, reminds me of a half-blind person chasing a pet (pick your pedigree) around with a pooper scoop. Maybe we should set this entire episode to music, something fitting, like the theme to “Benny Hill.”

     I have another problem with this, in that Santiago used his position with the department and the department’s presence on Facebook to do this…from home while off-duty. It would have been one thing if he had done this on his own time, on his own page. No, this was an act within the scope of his place as a community leader / servant, and he needs to be held accountable for it. The department’s Facebook page is a community outreach portal, and any post that Santiago makes is tantamount to an official statement. Interim Chief Santiago has pulled out the proverbial shovel, and dug himself a very big hole.

     One thing is for sure, and that’s that Teresa Wilson and the folks up at City Hall have a problem, one which they need to divest themselves of with all due haste.

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