Columbia Police Fire 1, Accept Retirement of Another Over Tom Sponseller Case

10:02 PM, Mar 1, 2012   |    comments
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Tom Sponseller (Image: Facebook)

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Two high-ranking employees at the Columbia Police Department are no longer with the agency over the handling of the disappearance of Columbia lobbyist Tom Sponseller.

Chief Randy Scott announced late Thursday that the deputy chief of administration/investigations has been terminated. Scott also accepted the retirement of the captain of investigations.

Scott said the personnel moves are "in the best interest of the department." Previous Coverage: Chief Scott Says Corrective Action Will Be Taken

Scott said the two are no longer employed "as a result of the mishandling and failures related to the Tom Sponseller missing persons investigation."

"I want the best work from everyone, every day and when we don't get those results, I'm disappointed and change must happen," Scott said in a statement.

While the police department does not identify the employees because this is a personnel matter, the department's website had previously listed the chief of administration as Deputy Chief I.P. Greene and the captain of investigations as Captain J.P. Smith.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin echoed Scott's sentiments in a statement released shortly after the changes were made public, acknowledging that the past few days had raised "troubling questions" and "serious concerns" about the Sponseller investigation.

"Today Chief Scott responded to those concerns with deliberate and decisive action sending a clear message that anything less than a full commitment to integrity and professionalism will not be tolerated at the Columbia Police Department," Benjamin said.

Chief of Staff Leslie Wiser and Lieutenant Dana Oree will oversee investigations immediately.

Sponseller was found dead Tuesday morning in a parking garage at the building where he worked, 10 days after he was reported missing by his family. The coroner and police believe Sponseller--the CEO of the South Carolina Hospitality Association--died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The investigation was questioned, however, because officers searched the garage but did not go into the room where Sponseller's body was located until after a suicide note was discovered in his office.

The room was located behind two doors, and officers said they were unable to get a key for the room the first few times that they searched the area. 

Chief Scott says an internal probe into the way the search for Sponseller was conducted continues.

Here is Scott's full statement:

"I do not by any stretch of the imagination, take this decision lightly. Since I became Chief, I have been working toward improving the department's abilities to assist the citizens of Columbia. We are accountable to every citizen.

"We as a department have been striving to help keep residents safe and improve relations with the community. If we stray from that, we haven't done our jobs effectively.

"In this situation, I have reviewed the actions of others and have determined that it is in the best interest of the department and the City to take these personnel actions to keep us moving forward in a positive direction.

"The City has a team of excellent officers and investigators who care about Columbia. I want the best work from everyone, every day and when we don't get those results, I'm disappointed and change must happen.

The citizens of Columbia deserve excellent service and we are not going to let them down."

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