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September 28, 2012

Fired policeman taps ex-USC football player to argue case for re-instatement

The Clemson-Carolina feud is in high gear more than eight weeks before the football teams are scheduled to meeting at Memorial Stadium.

A former Pickens police officer said Thursday that he was wrongly fired after he posted, on a Gamecocks fan web board, his version of what happened earlier this month when he gave a speeding ticket to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.

The city of Pickens says Michael McClatchy was fired for “engaging in private activity” – posting comments to the fan site – while on the job.

McClatchy has hired Anderson attorney Chuck Allen, a USC trustee who played four years on the Gamecock defensive line. “He is a conscientious, diligent officer who did his job,” said Allen, who added the former officer, the father of three, is weighing his legal options.

Allen said he did not get involved to score points against USC’s archrival. Instead, Allen said he became involved because he knows McClatchy, having coached him when the officer played football at T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson.

But state Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said Allen is trying to stir up trouble for an officer who broke department rules.

“This is just trying to attempt to damage the reputation of a small town,” Martin said. “Whether you’re a Carolina or Clemson fan, you ought not expect to have a police officer write a blog about your traffic stop.”

McClatchy said he clocked Swinney driving 63 mph in a 35 mph zone in his Ford F-150 pickup truck while the coach was heading to his weekly radio show Sept. 3 at a Bi-Lo grocery store in Pickens, a town of 3,100 roughly 20 miles north of Clemson.

Tracy Swinney, riding with his brother Dabo, asked McClatchy to take into consideration that he was a retired policeman, according to a video taken by the officer’s car. The Swinneys did not follow McClatchy’s requests to stay in the truck after the traffic stop. Meanwhile, fans approached the coach for autographs.

McClatchy said the grocery store manager came out to tell him that Pickens Mayor David Owens was on the phone.

Owens said in a statement that a Bi-Lo manager called him. The mayor said he told another officer at the scene to “follow the proper procedures because there were a lot of people watching.”

While McClatchy reduced the citation for the Clemson coach, Tracy Swinney told him that he was disappointed, adding, “You’re going to get it one day,” according to the officer’s video of the traffic stop.

The next day, McClatchy said Pickens Police Chief Rodney Gregory told him that Dabo Swinney had called his home to complain the officer “acted unprofessionally.”

The city and the mayor said in separate statements Thursday that McClatchy acted appropriately during the traffic stop.

Gregory reduced Swinney’s ticket again, which the coach paid on Sept. 6. “I wish this situation had been handled differently,” the coach wrote to Gregory on Clemson football letterhead.

Clemson officials said Swinney did not have a comment Thursday. “He deserved the ticket. He paid the ticket,” spokesman Tim Bourret said of Swinney.

McClatchy said Gregory did not protest when he said he planned to reply to some web postings. The police department referred calls to city leaders.

McClatchy posted his version of events on a Gamecocks web board from home on Sept. 12. He said he edited the post at work a couple of days later and was fired on Sept. 17.

The city said McClatchy was fired for “engaging in private activity on company time on company equipment in addition to violating several general orders.” The city says McClatchy spent 11/2 hours during his shift at the police station “editing” his online post, adding he had received two previous disciplinary warnings.

Pickens Mayor Owens said he was part of the decision to fire McClatchy.

Allen called the computer use “a red herring” to divert attention from Swinney’s ticket. He said McClatchy did not receive paperwork about his previous warnings until he was fired.

The city said McClatchy can file a grievance with his supervisors and appeal to the Pickens City Council. “If necessary, the city is fully prepared to defend our decision.”

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