Far too many times do we hear about violent cops being allowed to resign over allegations of excessive force instead of face termination and criminal charges. These people who are held at a higher standard are consistently punished at a much lower bar and still seek gainful employment in another agency doing the same thing again. For example, Bluffton Police Officer Johnathon Bates has been able to bounce from one law enforcement agency to the next whenever investigations into his use of force is on the radar. Lawmakers in South Carolina are aware of this problem and are hoping a new law will curb this problematic behavior.
The South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy keeps track of all law enforcement officers around the state and serves as a hiring source for agencies, verifying employment history, training and certifications. With the new law in place law enforcement agencies will have to notify the state when a cop is guilty of using excessive force, whether they have been terminated or resigned. That information will be stored by the academy so hiring agencies can be better informed of potential new hires. One thing the state is trying to prevent is the moving around of “bad apples”.
Before the law went into effect, agencies like the Bluffton Police Department were not “well informed” of candidates’ excessive force history. Case in point: Bluffton PD knew that Bates had a history including an incident where he shoved an inmate to the ground unprovoked. The incident was caught on surveillance cameras and after it came to light, Bates resigned from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office cited Bates for misconduct and the next day, he applied at Bluffton PD.
During the hiring process, an investigator from Bluffton went to the sheriff’s office to review Bates’ file. The investigator noted in his report he “did not see any formal internal investigations or any other disciplinary actions in his personnel file.”
Add to that the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office also provided Bates with a glowing letter of recommendation despite his propensity to escalate violence. In contrast however, a personnel form in Bates’ file signed by Beaufort County Chief Deputy Michael Hatfield said he would not re-hire Bates.
The new law would prevent situations like this, and bad cops like Bates, from spreading throughout the state. Currently, Bluffton PD has until Aug 3rd to submit their report on Bates. Unfortunately that deadline has already passed and the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, so far, have yet to receive those records.
Harsh punishment enhancements need to be made to the law to hold law enforcement agencies accountable.
In the case of Bates, hopefully he is found guilty of his repeated offenses and under new legislation approved by the South Carolina Commission on Prosecution Coordination, is thrown in prison for 20 years.