The former Columbia police chemist blamed for problems in the department’s drug lab lashed back Tuesday at city leaders.
“The city of Columbia made me the scapegoat and hung me out to dry in the media,” Brenda Toomer-Frazier said in her first public remarks since she left her job last summer.
Toomer-Frazier, 54, has sued the city for $3 million, saying her professional reputation has been destroyed by how police Chief Skip Holbrook and City Hall have portrayed her work.
“Is this case about race? Absolutely ... and about retaliation,” Toomer-Frazier said during an hour-long news conference in a hotel conference room in downtown Columbia.
Toomer-Frazier and her lawyer, Glenn Walters of Orangeburg, say the city hired her to upgrade the lab but failed to support her professionally, then turned her whistleblowing complaints about lab shortcomings against her.
She said Holbrook threatened to fire her if she did not resign.
Toomer-Frazier said she complained to her supervisors about problems with calibration of drug-weighing scales, too much access to the lab at police headquarters and other concerns before a critical analysis was done by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department at Holbrook’s request.
Walters said he will release an email that Toomer-Frazier wrote outlining to her bosses problems she found.
Walters characterized his client’s treatment as “bait and switch.”
“They set the equation in place where this lady could not win,” the attorney said.
Walters also alleged that City Council - including its African-American majority - stood back and let Toomer-Frazier and another black police leader, ex-captain Isa Greene, be treated differently than white police officials in similar circumstances.
He accused the city of using “deceit, chicanery and fabrication” to mistreat Toomer-Frazier and Greene.
Walters represents both women in their improper dismissal suits.
Toomer-Frazier filed a $3 million lawsuit against the city Nov. 3. She alleges racial discrimination, that she was denied the tools to do her job properly and that the job evaluation done by the lab director for the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, Demi Garvin, was an example of a conflict of interest for Garvin.
The former lab chemist handled about 750 cases during her two years and nine months at the Columbia Police Department. About 200 of those were re-examined by the sheriff’s lab after a Columbia attorney in July questioned whether the amount of crack cocaine seized from his client in a September 2013 arrest met the legal standard for charging him with trafficking. Re-examination showed the weight Toomer-Frazier listed was off by enough that the client could not be charged with trafficking.
That discovery triggered a series of events that led Holbrook to shut down the lab and divert further drug analyses to the State Law Enforcement Division. The Columbia police lab has yet to reopen.
Toomer-Frazier was the only drug chemist at the time because another chemist had left, citing workplace disputes with Toomer-Frazier, Holbrook said when he suspended operation of the lab. Lack of peer review of drug analyzes can cause problems with evidence when cases go to court.
There were questions raised but no public statements issued that Toomer-Frazier’s work led to improper incarceration of any defendant.