29-year trooper resigns after blasting Public Safety leader
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina Highway Patrol sergeant handed in his resignation Monday after telling lawmakers the man who runs his agency does not have troopers’ best interests in mind.
Sgt. David Whatley was in tears as he quit his job of 29 years that he said he felt like God called him to do at the end of his testimony before a House oversight committee that’s been reviewing the Department of Public Safety for nearly two years.
But Whatley said both supervisors like him and troopers on the road are unhappy with the leadership of our agency. “It’s not just me, it’s across the board out there,” he said.
Whatley said department internal investigations are unfair, stacked against troopers and have been used to punish officers that aren’t liked by supporters of current agency director Leroy Smith.
Smith testified before Whatley, but has denied similar charges in the past. Smith said Monday he continues to implement changes to retain troopers and get more of them on the road.
The Department of Public Safety lost 15 percent of its workers in the past fiscal year and only one in four current employees of the Highway Patrol have worked at the agency for more than seven years, according to a report by the state Office of Inspector General.
That report also found that 58 percent of Public Safety employees report morale is low at the agency.
Smith was approved for a second four-year term in 2016 after being nominated by then Gov. Nikki Haley and has continued to have the support of Gov. Henry McMaster. Smith testified Monday that he is continuing to work on the problems in the report and thinks he has made progress.
Supporters said Smith is under attack from a disgruntled group of troopers who are resisting his push for greater professionalism and by lawmakers who control his budget.
The House has been angry with Smith for nearly two years. Members symbolically refused to pay his salary in last year’s budget.
Rep. Eddie Talon, a retired State Law Enforcement Division agent, said even with all the scrutiny of the past two years, Smith has done little to improve his agency.
“You’ve got a problem with your leadership,” the Spartanburg Republican said. “You aren’t doing the citizens of South Carolina justice.”