A Columbia Police Department investigation into an incident involving the Irmo assistant fire chief Sept. 19 has concluded that while officers did not violate policies or procedures, “there were notable lapses in supervision, notification and documentation.”
Neither police nor the Columbia Fire Department found that Irmo assistant chief Clyde Thomas was under the influence of alcohol, fire chief Aubrey Jenkins said Tuesday. Jenkins’ employees, who were first to respond to a McDonald’s parking lot just after 3 a.m., like the police officers, violated no policies, the agencies said.
But they will undergo remedial training on decision-making and how to handle what Jenkins called “awkward situations.”
Jenkins also said he and his command staff will discuss whether the department needs a new or clearer policy on notifying supervisors in such situations, including when there are suspicions of drinking.
“Nobody ran an (alcohol consumption) test,” Jenkins said of the 3 a.m. 911 call to the McDonald’s at 7410 Wilson Blvd. near I-20 in north Columbia.
Investigations were launched by three local agencies after Thomas was found unresponsive in an Irmo Fire Department vehicle around 3 a.m.
Questions of favoritism were raised after Columbia police officers in two cruisers, who were called to the scene, did not file an incident or information report. Columbia Police chief Skip Holbrook, several days later, said he wanted to know if the officers properly investigated whether Thomas was fit to drive after he was found unconscious in the fire department vehicle.
Thomas, who is currently on leave from the fire department, had spent the day with other members of the fire department participating in a 5K fundraising run in downtown Columbia. While Thomas said he had been drinking alcohol earlier in the day, “both EMS and fire personnel indicated no odor of alcohol was detected while treating Thomas. No evidence of alcohol consumption was found inside the vehicle,” the report stated.
Irmo chief Mike Sonefeld said Thomas told him at the time that while trying to get home after the long day, he started feeling ill and pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot. Next thing he knew, someone was knocking on his vehicle window.
Thomas was not charged with any wrongdoing. After being attended by EMS personnel in the parking lot, he was driven to the fire station by firefighters and then home by Sonefeld.
The Irmo chief said Tuesday he has yet to get records of the investigative findings as he has requested. Sonefeld said Thomas will remain on paid leave until the chief has evaluated the reports and determined whether disciplinary action or policy changes for his staff are necessary.
The CPD investigation concluded that the police officers should have done a number of things they did not do: Talk to Thomas, document the call, contact a supervisor and provide a summary of the incident to the staff duty officer.
“The CPD officers involved have been counseled on how to better handle or improve decision-making on call for service such as this,” a release from the police department states.
Jenkins said he plans no disciplinary action against the six firefighters from the North Columbia fire station who responded to the emergency call. “We probably should have just waited on the Irmo fire chief to get there,” Jenkins said.
Staff writer Clif LeBlanc contributed to this article.