Pubdate: Sat, 22 Oct 2005
Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Copyright: 2005 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Author: Glenn Smith, Of The Post and Courier Staff
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


Hethington Says He Threw Away Clean, 18-Year Career

Ousted narcotics commander James Mackey's actions landed him in the
sights of internal affairs investigators, but his lies about his
misconduct are what cost him his job, Charleston Interim Police Chief
Ned Hethington said Friday. Mackey might well still be working if he
had explained to investigators why he had gone to bat for an accused
drug dealer and directed an officer to mislead a judge about an arrest
warrant, Hethington said. He said that instead of admitting to his
mistakes, accepting punishment and moving on, Mackey chose a path of
deceit. In the process, Mackey threw away a relatively blemish-free,
18-year career in which he had done "wonderful things," he said.

"Not telling the truth during the investigation was the worst part,"
he said. "He took it to the next level, and he didn't need to do that.
. It disappointed me greatly."

Hethington fired Mackey on Wednesday, the same day the state Criminal
Justice Academy revoked the officer's police powers in South Carolina,
banning him from the profession for "numerous misconduct issues." The
State Law Enforcement Division is still investigating whether criminal
violations are involved.

Hethington said he saw no signs laws were broken, only instances of
bad judgment. "I don't believe he is a crook or a person who would do
something corrupt," he said.Mackey's lawyer, Donald Gist of Columbia,
maintains that the fault lies with a shoddy internal affairs
investigation that overlooked witnesses and evidence. Mackey
"vehemently denies" lying to investigators, Gist said. "We continue to
stand by our position that Mr. Mackey has done nothing that warrants
his demotion and nothing that warrants his termination," Gist said.
Mackey is accused of accepting gifts from an accused drug trafficker
and improperly interceding on the suspect's behalf in an attempt to
get state and federal charges dismissed in the case. The suspect,
32-year-old Brenton Jenkins, was arrested in January 2004 at a Gunn
Avenue home where police found more than 10 grams of cocaine cooking
in a microwave, authorities said. Jenkins, who listed Mackey as a
character reference after his arrest by federal agents, told the U.S.
Attorney's Office he gave the narcotics commander jerseys to thank him
for a letter written in Jenkins' behalf, police said.

Mackey reportedly received two designer jerseys worth about $100 each,
Hethington said. Mackey denied any connection to Jenkins, even after
police determined that Mackey knew the suspect, he said. Mackey also
denied receiving the jerseys, even though other officers had seen them
in his possession, the chief said.

Hethington also shed more light on allegations that Mackey ordered his
men to obtain a warrant for a man they knew was dead to avoid
questions about their decision to seize his car in a drug case.
According to the chief and other police officials, the incident
unfolded like this: On May 5, police stopped a 42-year-old woman on
Addison Street and found .16 grams of heroin in the vehicle she was
driving, a 2001 Nissan Xterra. The vehicle belonged to Steven Van
Winkle, a 57-year-old Summerville man with whom she said she planned
to share the drugs. Officers had her call Van Winkle and arrange a
meeting at which she gave him some of the heroin. Narcotics officers
detained Van Winkle that night but allowed him to leave without being
charged. They seized his vehicle, forcing him to take a taxi home from
the police station.

On May 10, Van Winkle was found dead in his home after shooting
himself in the head days earlier. In his suicide note, he mentioned
the car seizure and his problems with drinking and drugs.

Summerville police sent a message notifying the Charleston narcotics
unit that Van Winkle had committed suicide, but Mackey delayed calling
them back until he had obtained an arrest warrant for the dead man. He
did so over objections from some members of his unit who thought it
unwise to ask a Charleston County magistrate for a warrant for a man
they thought to be dead, according to the internal affairs report.
Hethington said it is "very unusual" to seize a vehicle without an
arrest, but there is nothing illegal about filing the paperwork later.
He sensed that Mackey simply panicked when he learned of Van Winkle's
suicide and tried to create a paper trail to avoid any questions about
the seizure, he said. After fellow police officers and a federal
official raised concerns about Mackey's conduct, Charleston police
launched an internal affairs investigation that took place in July and
August. Investigators found he had violated numerous policies and procedures.

Wanting to be absolutely sure of that, then-Police Chief Reuben
Greenberg convened a six-member board of the department's top
commanders to review the case, Hethington said.

That board, which included Hethington, found "more than enough
evidence" to support the earlier findings, and a majority of the panel
recommended that Mackey be fired, Hethington said.

Greenberg, who has since retired, chose to demote Mackey, setting the
stage for a grievance process that would further ensure the officer
was afforded due process, he said.

Hethington said the department found no signs of severe problems
within the seven-member narcotics unit -- now run by Lt. Gerald Blake
- -- and no major changes are planned.

Two officers who served under Mackey's command have transferred to
other assignments, but the rest remain, he said.

Hethington said, however, that he would like the unit to shift some
focus from large-scale drug operations and property seizures to
cleaning up street-level narcotics that affect the quality of life for
citizens. While the episode is unfortunate, Hethington said, it
demonstrates that the department's internal affairs system works the
way it was intended. "We do police our police," he said, "and I want
the citizens to know that." 
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