The S.C. House of Representatives voted Tuesday to fire the director of the Department of Public Safety.
The proposal by House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, passed on a 76-20 vote. It eliminates funding for the director position of the Department of Public Safety in the state’s roughly $8 billion budget.
Rutherford said he introduced the amendment after relaying concerns he said he has continually heard from troopers to DPS Director Leroy Smith and Gov. Henry McMaster’s staff.
“The director of the Department of Public Safety needs to go,” Rutherford said. “He has demoralized the Department of Public Safety long enough.”
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DPS includes the S.C. Highway Patrol, the Bureau of Protective Services, the State Transport Police and the state’s Immigration Enforcement Unit.
Rutherford said that when Smith’s “behavior” was challenged in the past, Smith said that troopers and other legislators had a problem with him because of his race. Rutherford said Smith expressed the same sentiment earlier this year before the S.C. Legislative Black Caucus.
“And so I went and looked into that,” Rutherford said. “As I delved down into the details and looked at the data, it was clear that (Smith) is the problem.”
Rutherford serves on the House’s Legislative Oversight Panel, which is in charge of looking at the police agency’s policies and books.
Among other issues raised Tuesday, Rutherford said that under Smith’s tenure 2016 data showed the state is expected to have the highest number of road fatalities since 2007.
In July, The State newspaper reported that South Carolina’s roads were twice as deadly in 2015 than the rest of the country. In Richland County, traffic fatalities were up more than 50 percent for 2016.
Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, told the House floor this is “the only recourse” the House has to get McMaster’s attention when it comes to the issues at the agency.
Brian Symmes, spokesman for McMaster said the governor supported Smith.
“The governor is aware of the House’s concerns and takes them seriously, but he is supportive of Director Smith,” Symmes said.
Six months ago, lawmakers questioned Smith on whether the agency’s procedures were fostering a perception of unfair or unequal treatment for state troopers.
Rep. Eddie Tallon, R-Spartanburg, said in August that once the issues surfaced in a July legislative panel on DPS, he averaged three to four phone calls a day from troopers expressing frustration with their managers.
Tallon said troopers told him they don’t trust their managers and don’t feel they’ll be protected if they express those concerns with the agency’s leadership. He also said the number of complaints is unusual and stressed that grievances weren’t just coming from troopers who have faced disciplinary measures.
“There’s always a certain amount of griping that goes on, but this seems to be different than just the regular old malcontents,” said Tallon in August.
Smith, who was appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley to the Cabinet-level post in 2012, said at the time that DPS had conducted its own internal survey of morale and job satisfaction, and it revealed morale for the entire department was at 3 on a 4-point scale.
Check back for updates to this developing story.