Columbia police officer fired after arrests in city and in Lexington County

nophillips@thestate.comJuly 9, 2013 

Gerald Atkinson

LEXINGTON COUNTY DETENTION CENTER

— A Columbia Police Department officer has been fired amid allegations of drunken driving and domestic violence that occurred over the course of two days.

Gerald Atkinson was released from his duties as a narcotics officer Tuesday morning after an internal investigation, according to a press release from the Columbia Police Department. Atkinson had worked at the department for a year, said Jennifer Timmons, a department spokeswoman.

Prior to joining the police department, Atkinson worked for nine years as a Richland County sheriff’s deputy and for a year at the S.C. Department of Corrections, said Capt. Florence McCants of the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy. Sheriff Leon Lott declined to comment, saying Atkinson no longer worked for him.

Atkinson’s dismissal came after officers from the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department and the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division charged him Saturday and Monday with a total of two counts of criminal domestic violence and one count of driving under the influence. Atkinson has been released from jail on bond.

Atkinson allegedly fought with his girlfriend on and off for more than 24 hours at his Irmo home, in Columbia’s Vista and at her home near the town of Lexington, according to multiple incident reports and arrest warrants.

The dispute started on Thursday at the girlfriend’s home, but police were not aware of that fight until Friday, when an anonymous person called the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department to report it.

That caller told deputies he feared for his life and for the victim’s life. He also said Atkinson had threatened to kill the woman and himself, according to an incident report.

The caller said that Atkinson stated, “I am going to put one in her and then one in myself,” the incident report said.

Lexington County deputies began investigating the allegation. But Columbia police were not notified, said Interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago.

Meanwhile, on Friday afternoon, Columbia police were called to Liberty Tap Room in the Vista after restaurant managers reported a dispute. At the restaurant, the victim denied there had been a fight and police did not witness any violence, Santiago said.

Restaurant workers reported that Atkinson had pulled the woman’s hair, but she told the officer that he was pulling her head back to give her a kiss, Santiago said. The couple was allowed to leave.

A few hours later, the woman found police officers and said Atkinson had assaulted her and thrown a drink in her face, Santiago said. Santiago said he then called SLED to investigate the allegations and asked agents to confiscate Atkinson’s gun, badge and other police equipment. Atkinson was placed on unpaid, administrative leave.

SLED’s arrest warrant said the couple first argued on July 5 at Carolina Ale House on Lady Street, where Atkinson pulled the woman’s hair and squeezed her leg, causing bruises. The couple then went to Liberty Tap Room where Atkinson pulled the woman’s hair and yelled profanities at her, according to the warrant issued Monday.

On Friday night while SLED and Lexington County were investigating the earlier incidents, Atkinson called a police department internal affairs sergeant and seemed intoxicated while talking, Santiago said. During that call, the internal affairs sergeant heard Atkinson hit the woman, and that officer called the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.

On their way to Atkinson’s Irmo home, Lexington sheriff’s deputies saw him driving away and pursued him to Bush River Road and pulled him over, according to a sheriff’s department incident report. Atkinson smelled of alcohol and refused a breath test, the report said.

He had a personal 9mm pistol in his truck, the report said.

Santiago said he knew Atkinson when they worked together at the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, but he was not aware of any personal problems.

“When he was at work, he did great work,” Santiago said.

Once Santiago learned of the allegations, he said he had no choice but to discipline Atkinson.

“We just don’t tolerate it,” he said. “We can’t tolerate it.”

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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