Nixing speculation that State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel would leave office, Gov. Henry McMaster nominated the longtime law-enforcement officer Wednesday to another six-year term.
The nomination of Keel, 60, known for his trademark dark suits and cowboy boots, to the $176,201-a-year post must be confirmed by the state Senate.
McMaster said no one is “more qualified or more fitting to lead one of our state’s superior law enforcement agencies.”
Whether McMaster would renominate Keel has been the subject of speculation.
Keel’s agents have been at the forefront of a wide-ranging state grand jury investigation into State House corruption by special prosecutor David Pascoe that has led into the governor’s office.
Although no one currently working for McMaster has been charged, one of his top aides, Trey Walker, was subpoenaed and questioned by the state grand jury. McMaster also dropped his longtime political adviser Richard Quinn after Quinn’s political consulting firm became a focus of that investigation.
“Chief Keel has served our state with great honor, integrity, and leadership for many years,” McMaster said in a statement. “With leaders like him ... the people of South Carolina can rest assured that our state is in good hands.”
SLED chief since 2011, Keel has expanded the agency to 300-plus field agents. SLED’s divisions include a SWAT team, bloodhounds, a computer center, helicopters, airplanes, crime lab and criminal records.
In all, SLED has a budget of $98 million and employs 679, including 389 sworn employees, 169 non-sworn staff and 121 temporary and grant workers. Its agents run drug investigations and handle major crimes, including officer-involved shootings, and elder and child fatalities. One of its main missions is to assist smaller law agencies that don’t have many resources.
Keel has won certification from national law enforcement accreditation group for the agency. In recent months, he also has ordered all major SLED interviews of suspects to be videotaped, buying some $166,000 of new equipment to make that happen.
In 2011, Keel, a Barnwell native, became SLED chief by former Gov. Nikki Haley to finish out the last part of departing SLED director Reggie Lloyd’s term. Haley nominated Keel to a full six-year term in 2012.
From 2008 to 2011, Keel was director of the S.C. Department of Public Safety, which includes the Highway Patrol. In that post, Keel instituted reforms, including firing officers who committed acts of racism or excessive force. Keel originally joined SLED in 1979 and worked his way up, fulfilling a youthful dream to lead the agency.