Crime & Courts

Former Columbia police chief admits he was drug addicted, illegally had guns in court

Randy Scott pleads guilty to gun and drug charges

Randy Scott, former Columbia Police Department chief, pleaded guilty in federal court on Aug. 7, 2019, to a gun charge and drug charge.
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Randy Scott, former Columbia Police Department chief, pleaded guilty in federal court on Aug. 7, 2019, to a gun charge and drug charge.

A former Columbia Police Department chief may go to prison for 10 years after pleading guilty Wednesday to owning guns while using illegal drugs.

Randy Scott, 50, pleaded guilty during a change of plea hearing at the Matthew J. Perry Federal Courthouse in Columbia. Under federal law, it’s illegal to possess any firearms and use narcotics.

Scott originally pleaded not guilty, court records show.

Scott was the Columbia Police Chief from 2011 to 2013. He resigned, saying he struggled with post traumatic stress disorder after a deputy died under his watch. Before becoming the top lawman in Columbia, he was a high ranking deputy with Richland County Sheriff’s Department and worked with the sheriff’s department after leaving the Columbia Police Department.

United States Assistant Attorney William Witherspoon laid out the case that compelled Scott’s guilty plea.

In December 2017, Richland County deputies got a call about a man sitting in a running vehicle in Hopkins, Witherspoon said. When police arrived, they found the man asleep with an open alcohol container in the car. They also found crack, heroin and a Glock pistol. The vehicle and gun were registered to Scott. The man in the car admitted to doing cocaine and methamphetamine with Scott, according to Witherspoon.

In April 2018, Scott was “rushed to the hospital” for a medical condition related to cocaine and meth use, Witherspoon said. Opiates were also found in Scott’s testing.

Meanwhile, a search for another man on criminal charges led U.S. Marshals and Richland deputies to Scott’s Northeast Columbia home in July 2018. When police served a search warrant at the home, someone told them Scott had just used meth, Witherspoon said.

Video footage taken minutes before police came into the house showed Scott taking a gun from his waist ban and going into a bedroom. Investigators said they found drugs in Scott’s bedroom and charged him with possession. When police took Scott to jail, he admitted that he used cocaine and meth in the past, prosecutors said.

The person who told police about Scott’s use of meth also later told FBI agents that Scott regularly used “ice,” another name for meth, and heroin.

Between November 2017 and July 2019, Scott owned six handguns, two shotguns and a semi-automatic assault rifle almost identical to the an AR-15, the plea agreement shows. At the same time, he was using narcotics regularly.

“Is that what you did?” Judge Terry Wooten asked concerning the series of events that Witherspoon presented.

Scott hesitated but said, “Yes, your honor.”

“All those guns were locked in a gun safe” aside from the one seen in the video, Scott said.

Scott’s co-counsel, attorney Nicole Simpson, accepted the prosecution’s timeline but said, “We will have some objections further down the road.”

The guilty plea is the latest action in Scott’s ongoing legal battle.

During the July 2018 search, deputies also said they discovered Scott had never returned two service pistols and charged him with breach of trust. The state drug possession and breach of trust charges are still pending.

In May, police arrested Scott in Florence, South Carolina, with a warrant from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for the recent gun charge. A judge let Scott out of jail on a cash bond with the condition that he not use drugs, attend substance treatment and do routine drug screenings.

A judge ordered police to jail Scott again in July after he tested positive for using methamphetamine, didn’t show up for drug testing and never attended drug treatment, according to court documents.

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Scott, under the advice of his regular lawyer Todd Rutherford, agreed to the plea Aug. 5, and United States Attorney Sherri Lyndon and Witherspoon signed off on the agreement the next day.

Wooten could sentence Scott to 10 years in federal prison, where no parole exists, and fine him $250,000 for the gun felony. The judge hinted at a reduced punishment if prosecutors later tell the court Scott helped them in other cases.

“I often grant those motions” to reduced sentences based on cooperation, Wooten said.

Scott will find out his punishment at a later court date.

Near the proceeding’s end, Wooten asked Scott if he had any questions about his charge and the potential sentence.

“No, sir,” Scott said.

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David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.