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May 4, 2011

Video shows heated fight involving wife of state representative, former North Myrtle Beach officer

North Myrtle Beach officials on Tuesday released a nearly hourlong police dashcam video that shows a heated altercation between a former police officer and Melissa Edge, the wife of state Rep. Tracy Edge, that took place Sept.

North Myrtle Beach officials on Tuesday released a nearly hourlong police dashcam video that shows a heated altercation between a former police officer and Melissa Edge, the wife of state Rep. Tracy Edge, that took place Sept. 14 at the city's fire station on Sea Mountain Highway.

Warning: Explicit language used during video.

The video shows a combative Melissa Edge, who admits to drinking alcohol before the event and at one point threatens former police Sgt. Jeff Senter with his job if he takes her to jail.

Senter states numerous times on the video that Melissa Edge is intoxicated, but he does not arrest her. Instead, he urges her to get psychological help and arranges for Tracy Edge to pick her up and take her home.

Senter, a 16-year veteran of the city's police department, was fired because of his actions that night.

The city released the video in response to an order from circuit court Judge Benjamin Culbertson, who said "the public's right to know the activities of a police officer while on duty and the possible reasons for his discharge outweigh any of the defendants' rights to privacy."

The city wanted to keep the dashcam video private, saying it is exempt under the state's Freedom of Information Act because it involves a personnel matter.

Tracy Edge, R-Myrtle Beach, also asked Culbertson last week to keep the video private because it would be an embarrassment to him and his family.

The Sun News and William Bailey, the city's former public safety director, sued North Myrtle Beach on Oct. 19, claiming the video is a public document under the state's Freedom of Information Act. Culbertson heard arguments in the case last week.

In his ruling, Culbertson said the video "depicts an argument occurring in public by two people who knew they were being videoed. Thus, the court questions whether the video actually contains 'private' information."

Culbertson said the city violated the state's Freedom of Information Act by withholding the video.

The altercation started at about 9:45 p.m. Sept. 14 when Melissa Edge drove her car to the city's Cherry Grove fire station to confront Senter, who was on duty and already at the facility.

The video shows that Melissa Edge was angry because she believed Senter had been talking to a firefighter at the station with whom she also was having a relationship.

"The police officer activated the dashcam recorder to document Mrs. Edge's combativeness and her alleged intoxication," Culbertson said in his order. "Furthermore, Mrs. Edge knew that her actions were being recorded by the police officer."

After Senter activated his dashcam recorder, Melissa Edge "voluntarily states that she and [Senter] had an affair that included rendezvous while the police officer was on duty," according to the video and Culbertson's order.

Nearly 22 minutes into the event, Senter tells Melissa Edge: "I'm getting ready to put you in jail.

"You're drunk, you're intoxicated," Senter said.

Melissa Edge responds by telling Senter "you're going to lose your (expletive) job if you take me to jail right now."

Senter then called his supervisor - police Lt. Mike Baldasarre - on the telephone.

"She's up here raising (expletive)," Senter told Baldasarre. "We've got to take her home. She's drunk."

The two men agree to contact Tracy Edge to take his wife home after Senter moves her car to a parking spot across the street from the fire station.

Tracy Edge told The Sun News that he has not seen the video and does not want to see it. He said neither he nor his wife asked the city for any special treatment.

Melissa Edge apologized for the incident in a statement to The Sun News on Tuesday.

"During the incident I never asked for, nor did I expect to be treated any differently than any other citizen," Melissa Edge said in the statement.

"Every day I try to teach my children how one bad decision can affect your life forever," she said. "This incident is proof of that. Eight months later, we are still dealing with the consequences of the incident. My family and I have worked tirelessly to make this community a better place and we are ready to put this chapter of our lives behind us and move forward."

Melissa Edge said on the video that she had been drinking before the altercation began, but she denied that she was intoxicated.

No charges were filed, and Senter did not write a report about the incident.

Senter told The Sun News last fall that police Capt. Rick Buddelmeyer - the acting public safety director at the time - told him not to write an incident report.

"He [Buddelmeyer] said, 'We don't want the press to find out about this,'" Senter said.

Senter said his actions initially were cleared by supervisors, but he was fired after The Sun News and other media requested copies of the video.

Senter had joined The Sun News and Bailey in the lawsuit to force the city to release the video. He withdrew from the lawsuit in November, however, saying he did not want the video released because it shows Melissa Edge in a mentally distressed state.

The Sun News learned that Senter withdrew from the lawsuit days after Melissa Edge had paid $660 for Senter's membership at the city's Aquatic and Fitness Center.

City spokesman Pat Dowling declined to discuss the video and the court case after the video's release.

"The city's position is that the case is over, the video has been released as required by Judge Culbertson's ruling, and the matter is closed," Dowling said.

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