Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes steps down

Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes (right) speaks at a news conference in February 2014.
Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes (right) speaks at a news conference in February 2014. MyrtleBeach

Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes announced Monday she is retiring from her post after four years at the helm and more than 20 years of service with the department.

Rhodes is the first black female to hold the county post. She did not give a reason for the decision, but said in a statement she was retiring with “great resolution and a strong sense of pride.”

Rhodes will be replaced by Assistant Police Chief Kelvin Waites, who has been named interim police chief.

“In a world that constantly is changing and while some attitudes towards law enforcement officers reach an all-time low, the Horry County Police Department has continued to be professional in all of its efforts. For that, I will be eternally proud and grateful,” Rhodes said.

“I can honestly say that my prayers have been answered each and every day that no Horry County police officer has been killed in the line of duty during my tenure as police chief,” Rhodes said.

Although Rhodes said she is retiring, she indicated in her statement that her law enforcement career was not at an end.

“I am looking forward to future challenges that will measure up to that as I have faced thus far in my career,” Rhodes said.

Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught told The Sun News before the official announcement Monday morning that Rhodes’s retirement was a mutual decision with the county.

Rhodes did not return a call for comment, and Horry County Lt. Raul Denis said in a statement that police would not be conducting interviews or answering questions “at this time” about Rhodes’s retirement.

The announcement comes on the heels of an ongoing investigation conducted by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division of individuals within the department, and a lawsuit alleging that a detective sexually assaulted a rape victim.

The department is also the target of a second lawsuit filed April 15 that accuses an unnamed officer of concluding that another rape case was unfounded. No arrest was made until March, three years after the crime was committed. That arrest resulted from the review of cases handled after the first lawsuit was filed in December.

“I don’t know if it’s linked to the lawsuits,” Vaught said. “The council only has one employee, and that’s (county administrator) Chris Eldrigde. We don’t get into personnel matters as far as making decisions. It’s better that way -- we don’t micromanage anything. The decision is his.”

SLED Agent Thom Berry confirmed Friday that an investigation of individuals in the department was ongoing, and said that if any allegations of wrongdoing were found, the report would be forwarded to Horry County Solicitor Jimmy Richardson recommending that individuals be prosecuted.

Scott Evans, the lawyer representing the unnamed woman who is accusing a detective of sexual assault, said Friday they did not publicly reveal the male officer’s name because they did not want to interfere with SLED’s investigation.

Rhodes worked for the Horry County Police Department since 1993 in several ranks from sergeant to lieutenant to captain, and began her career as an undercover narcotics agent. She was appointed to the chief position in 2012, replacing Johnny Morgan who was named chief in 2004.

Rhodes pledged upon taking the job that she would crack down on crime and focus on community policing. Rhodes also promised to reduce response times and allow for victims to file certain crime reports online.

According to clearance rates by SLED in 2013, more than 80 percent of murders committed in the county jurisdiction were cleared, half of sexual assault crimes were cleared, one-third of all robberies, and about 15 percent of burglaries.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson

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