COLUMBIA, SC — A joint FBI-SLED report into allegations concerning interim Columbia police chief Ruben Santiago has been forwarded to another solicitor to avoid any conflict of interest, 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson said Wednesday.
The allegations have been dubbed “Black Ops,” because they supposedly involved a wild plot by some police to frame an assistant Columbia city manager by planting false evidence that would implicate him in a crime.
“Obviously I have a close relationship with many of the parties involved and to avoid the appearance of impropriety, I have forwarded it to another solicitor,” Johnson said.
There are 15 other solicitors in South Carolina. Each solicitor oversees criminal prosecutions in two or more counties.
Johnson said the FBI-SLED report contained matters like what witnesses said but drew no conclusions and made no recommendations.
It will be up to the outside solicitor to decide whether any laws were broken and which laws, Johnson said.
Johnson said Wednesday that for the present, he would not identify the solicitor because “I just put it in the mail today and he hasn’t gotten it yet. I just want to give him a chance to get it.”
The FBI and SLED each looked at somewhat different areas of the allegations, Johnson said.
The subject of the FBI-SLED report concerns allegations earlier this year by a former city police captain, David Navarro, that Santiago was trying to instigate a plot to plant a stolen gun and cocaine in assistant city manager Alison Baker’s car. Navarro has said he refused to participate in the plot and was fired in retaliation.
Navarro has since sued the city for wrongful termination. In the suit, he also accuses Santiago of various illegal acts.
Santiago has denied those allegations and has filed a defamation lawsuit against Navarro.
Solicitor Johnson is a former member of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, as are Santiago and Navarro. Having an outside prosecutor ensures an impartial evaluation of information gathered by SLED and the FBI, Johnson said.
While he was with city police, Navarro was commander of the Community Services Division, which consists of the Warrant Team, P.A.C.E. Team, K-9 Unit, Police Athletic League and Drug Suppression Team.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.