Columbia, SC — EVEN THOUGH interim Columbia police Chief Ruben Santiago won’t be prosecuted for an alleged plot to plant drugs and a gun in an assistant city manager’s car, his behavior during the investigation was so disturbing that City Manager Teresa Wilson should remove him as interim chief immediately.
Thirteenth Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins said that the FBI and SLED were forced to broaden their investigation because Mr. Santiago and Bridget Caffery, a former city crime analyst, potentially hindered their work. “Specifically, there were instances of these individuals failing to be completely forthright with investigators regarding certain aspects of the investigation,” Mr. Wilkins said.
Although Mr. Wilkins said Mr. Santiago’s and Ms. Caffery’s actions didn’t rise to the level of obstruction of justice or misconduct in office, it is no small matter that Columbia’s top law enforcement officer “failed to be completely forthright with investigators.”
The chief of police must be above reproach and must lead by example. What message does it send to his officers — or to the public — if he impedes an investigation? More importantly, how can we trust Mr. Santiago’s leadership if he would hinder the very sort of work his investigators must do every day?
Removing Mr. Santiago from his duties as interim police chief is the least Ms. Wilson should do. With Ms. Wilson closing in on choosing a new permanent chief, we can’t imagine that person being comfortable with Mr. Santiago returning to the position of deputy chief. Indeed, we believe a case can be made for dismissing him from the department altogether.
Some people have expressed concern about two profanity-laden audio recordings of Mr. Santiago and former police Capt. David Navarro, who accused Mr. Santiago of a “black ops” plot to frame an assistant city manager.
It is in fact troubling that on one of the recordings, Mr. Santiago and Mr. Navarro are having an in-depth conversation in the presence of Ms. Caffery, a subordinate, about former chief Randy Scott’s personal problems and strategies for Mr. Scott, Mr. Santiago and Mr. Navarro to rise through the ranks of city administration. But that pales in comparison to Mr. Santiago’s behavior during the investigation.
City Manager Wilson has said she wants to examine the entire investigative report before deciding what her next step might be, but we believe she knows enough now to remove Mr. Santiago.
Some city leaders had wanted Ms. Wilson to postpone her search for a new chief until the investigation involving Mr. Santiago was completed. Some members of the community have expressed a strong desire for him to become the permanent chief.
Mr. Santiago, who has led the department for a little less than a year, is personable and has worked well with the community. But his trustworthiness is in question.
Ms. Wilson should act without delay. The move might not be popular and certainly doesn’t come at the best time considering the thin leadership bench in the police department. But if Ms. Wilson is about to hire a new top cop, better to suffer through a short period of inexperienced leadership while a new chief prepares to come aboard than to leave the department in the hands of one who can’t be trusted.