July 25, 2013

Steve Benjamin: I Have No Tolerance for Corruption

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin says he has no tolerance for corruption in the city, and will push for firings and prosecution if an ongoing probe finds wrongdoing.

Benjamin sat down with News19's Darci Strickland Wednesday afternoon for an exclusive interview to discuss a variety of issues involving public safety in the city.

VIDEO: Confidence in Columbia - Part 1

VIDEO: Confidence in Columbia - Part 2

VIDEO: Confidence in Columbia - Part 3

Last week, Benjamin called for a State Law Enforcement Division investigation into a fired Columbia Police Department captain's claim that senior officers wanted to target a public official. The officer, Dave Navarro, claimed Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago asked him to plant drugs on the official in an effort to get the person fired.  

Santiago and the city deny the claims, and Santiago has filed a defamation lawsuit against Navarro.

Strickland asked him if he's aware of the concerns many in the community have about the city and its police department.

"I share the concerns that all citizens share with the turmoil at the top of the City of Columbia police department and that's why I asked last week for the State Law Enforcement Divison to investigate fully any and all claims that are being made that have been made back and forth over there," Benjamin said.

The mayor wants the investigation to be conducted carefully, but once it's through, he promised to take action if necessary, adding he has no tolerance for corruption.

"Let me make something very clear," Benjamin told Strickland. "If there is any indication of any wrongdoing by anyone at the police department I will push for their immediate firing and a full criminal prosecution."

Benjamin said the FBI has been included on at least one interview in the case, but he said SLED is in charge of the investigation.

Benjamin also said he sees a need for a sharp line between politicians and law enforcement, a message he repeated several times during the interview. He specifically applied it to the case involving State NAACP President Dr. Lonnie Randolph, who was ticketed by police after an incident at a business in Five Points. Previous Coverage: SC NAACP President Charged | Randolph's Attorney Says Diabetes Caused Incident

During the incident, police used force to subdue Randolph. His  lawyer has said Randolph was having a diabetic condition that officers didn't recognize, which explains his behavior on that day.

An incident report states that Santiago was called by officers, and that Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson responded to the scene. (Wilson has since said that by the time she arrived, the officers and Randolph were gone.)

Benjamin said he's drafting a resolution that will be presented to city council on August 6th that clearly states that politicians and administrators should not be at crime scenes.

"I have some of my colleagues at city council who love to show up at crime scenes," Benjamin said. "It's not right. It's not right for politicians or administrators to be on crime scenes."

Benjamin also said he's recommending that charges against Randolph shoudn't be dropped until the legal process plays itself out through the normal channels.

"Equal justice for all means special treatment for none," Benjamin said. "And any discussion of prematurely dropping charges before he's had his day in court...this issue ought to be decided by a judge and by a jury independent from the victims and Dr. Randolph's counsel and prosecutors."

The mayor did confirm that he's seen a dashcam video of the incident. News19 is currently working to obtain this video.