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No charges for Columbia interim police chief, ex-cop

COLUMBIA (AP) — Criminal charges will not be brought against the interim chief of the Columbia Police Department or a former officer, a prosecutor who reviewed an investigation said Tuesday.

Meeting with reporters at the State Law Enforcement Division’s Columbia headquarters, Solicitor Walt Wilkins said during a news conference that he had reviewed SLED’s inquiry into possible criminal activities by members of the department, including interim Chief Ruben Santiago, but wouldn’t be recommending any charges.

Santiago asked SLED to investigate whether a fired captain had illegally shredded documents and stolen money from a police foundation. Capt. David Navarro also contacted SLED and said that Santiago had asked him to plant drugs and a gun in an assistant city manager’s car.

City officials fired Navarro, who they said did not show up for work and broke city policy by taping a conversation with Santiago without his knowledge. Navarro ultimately sued the city over his dismissal. An attorney representing him in that ongoing suit didn’t immediately return a message Tuesday.

Santiago also has sued Navarro for defamation; that case is still pending.

Wilkins, the chief prosecutor for Greenville and Pickens counties and a former U.S. attorney for South Carolina, reviewed the case for about two months at the behest of local prosecutors who wanted to avoid potential conflicts. He said his review found insufficient evidence to support criminal charges against Santiago or Navarro.

Santiago has been serving as Columbia’s interim chief since Randy Scott left the post last year, and local officials said the SLED investigation delayed their search for a permanent leader. On Tuesday, Wilkins emphasized that, as an outside official, he has no political stake in any “political maneuvering” taking place in the state capital’s machinations.

“I’m here to call balls and strikes,” Wilkins said. “I have no part in the political process here in Columbia.”

Noting that SLED’s investigation was delayed because of actions of Santiago and another department employee, Wilkins said he hadn’t found evidence strong enough to support a charge of misconduct in office.

“There were instances of these individuals failing to be completely forthright,” Wilkins said, declining to give more details about the allegations. “There is insufficient evidence to support criminal charges that could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. … It did not rise to the level of criminality.”

State Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Columbia lawmaker who is also Santiago’s lawyer, said his client was pleased with the investigation’s findings.

“This exonerates Chief Santiago in any wrongdoing,” Rutherford said.

Saying she was pleased with the investigation, City Manager Teresa Wilson said it was time for Columbia to move forward.

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