Police Chief Randy Scott tearfully promised Monday to reveal more details about a post-traumatic stress disorder condition that ended his career at the police department, as Columbia officials embark on a national search to find the city’s seventh chief since 2007.
Scott announced his resignation, effective May 1, after revealing that he has been receiving counseling for PTSD. He said he developed the condition after the 2005 death of Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Cannon, whom Scott had hired when he worked for the sheriff’s department.
“On my leave of absence I received counseling and help in realizing that my personal life is as important as my law enforcement career,” Scott wrote in his resignation letter to City Manager Teresa Wilson. “I learned that the stress of being the Chief of the Columbia Police Department has brought out severe stress-related issues. This is more commonly known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that I have from incidents that have occurred in my career.”
Ruben Santiago, who has been running the department in Scott’s absence, will be the interim chief. Wilson and Mayor Steve Benjamin said there is not yet a plan in place for hiring a new chief.
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Scott will remain on the city’s payroll until May 1. He is using leave while he is getting counseling, which is being paid for by his city health insurance, Wilson said. There have been no discussions about how the nearly $52,000 in an early retirement payout in 2012 on behalf of Scott will be addressed, she said.
Scott left April 2 on an unexplained, indefinite leave of absence. At the time, Wilson said she had become aware of workplace issues involving Scott, and she said she had been considering disciplinary action against him.
Monday, she said the conclusion that Scott has PTSD matches the explanations he had provided during their conversations in recent weeks.
The inquiry into Scott’s professional conduct is now over, Wilson said.
Wilson said Monday was the first time Scott told her he had PTSD, a type of anxiety that affects people who have experienced trauma such as combat or a natural disaster. She said she had talked to Scott multiple times since he took his leave, and she learned Sunday that he was planning to come to her office Monday to discuss his future with the department.
Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine said she and Scott had discussed the effects of stress, especially as his second marriage unraveled.
“People have got to respect that this guy has identified his problem and sought out treatment,” she said Monday.
Devine and Scott spoke Monday before his resignation announcement, during which he mentioned how much Cannon’s death affected him.
“Officer Cannon and that kind of thing,” Devine said. “No, I had never heard that before.”
Scott said the decision to resign was a personal one, and he asked to make a public statement about his counseling.
Scott said he wanted to allow the department’s officers to continue their good work rather than focus on him and why he had taken a leave.
During Monday’s news conference at police department headquarters, Scott often struggled to speak as he described Cannon’s wreck, which occurred during a high-speed chase on I-20.
Scott said he had hired Cannon, and that the young deputy had reservations about the job Scott assigned to him. Scott said he went to the scene after Cannon’s wreck and had learned in counseling that “You shouldn’t hire someone, look in a car and see them deceased.”
“So, they call it PTSD. You can call it stress. But I have to call it what it is and that’s something that was tearing me apart for a very long time,” he said.
Scott, who was divorced in January, also said he was proud of the work he had done to improve the department, but said there was something he had neglected during his 21/2-year tenure.
“I am a law enforcement officer,” Scott said. “But I had forgotten that I also have a family.”
Scott said he plans to return to law enforcement once his treatment is complete, though he offered no details. He did not stay at the news conference to take questions. He left with Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, his former boss and mentor at the sheriff’s department.
“I beg of you,” Scott said, “let me complete what I’ve started. Once I complete, I will come back and I will detail it for you.”
Scott was named interim police chief in October 2010 and immediately began restructuring the department. He named a new command staff, went on a hiring spree and created several new units.
In January 2011, the interim label was removed.
From that point, Scott was seen as the answer to years of problems at the department. He was its sixth police chief in six years.
Some past police chiefs created their own problems. But the job also is notoriously difficult because of the structure of city management. The police chief reports directly to the city manager. But the chief also must please the mayor and six council members as well as neighborhood leaders, who carry political clout.
Scott managed to please all of those parties and quickly became a star in the community.
But his tenure at the police department was not perfect.
He has clashed with the Five Points Association and the late-night party crowd over how to control increasing violence.
The department was embarrassed in February 2012 when city officers bungled a search for a missing lobbyist. They failed to find Tom Sponseller’s body for 10 days even though he had shot himself in a storage room off the parking garage of his downtown building, just yards from his car.
In the wake of the missteps, Scott fired two high-ranking officers.
One of them, Isa Greene, a 33-year department veteran, sued him and the department, alleging discrimination. In the suit, she claims the department “allowed a hostile work environment to exist based upon unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, verbal and physical conduct of a lewd sexual nature and sexual favoritism that is so severe and pervasive as to render the working conditions in CPD psychologically intolerable for female officers.”
Last year, the city paid nearly $52,000 toward Scott’s early retirement in December and then rehired him 15 days later. The city’s purchase of retirement credits on Scott’s behalf allowed him to retire and return to work and draw a pension before state laws changed early retirement payouts in January.
There was no agreement in place that would require Scott to repay the money should he leave the department.
While the chief’s office has had a revolving door in recent years, Mayor Benjamin insisted the Columbia police chief’s position would be attractive to law enforcement from around the city, state and nation.
He cited a citywide reduction in crime during the first quarter of 2013 as the reason the job would be desirable.
“It’s tough being a chief of police because it’s such a high-profile position,” Benjamin said. “You stand out.”
Benjamin said the numbers speak for themselves, and he is confident the city will find a qualified replacement.
“I think the city manager said that in the next 60 days we’ll have a process laid out and we’ll conduct a search to find another strong, successful Chief Scott,” Benjamin said.