Crime

Grand Strand police officer charged with sexual exploitation of a minor

Stock photo
Stock photo

An Atlantic Beach police officer is in jail and accused of solicitation with minors and misconduct while in office.

The alleged incidents happened when Akiel McKnight was a police officer with the City of Pickens police department, according to arrest warrants. He left the Pickens department earlier this year.

Jail records show McKnight, 28, was booked into J. Reuben Long Detention Center at 7:43 p.m. Wednesday and released about an hour later. He was booked into the Pickens County Jail on Thursday.

Officials with Atlantic Beach said McKnight was working for the department on Wednesday. Police Chief Quentin Robinson did not respond to The Sun News in time for this report. Robinson told our news partner, WPDE, that McKnight was hired Dec. 13 and fired Thursday.

“After receiving and reviewing a thorough report from SLED, the Town of Atlantic Beach is justified in terminating Akiel McKnight from his probationary period with our Police Department,” read Robinson’s statement. “McKnight’s termination is effective immediately this 3rd day of January, 2019 at approximately 2 p.m.”

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division charged McKnight with misconduct while in office, two counts of solicitation of a minor, two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and two counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.

According to arrest warrants, during the incidents, which happened from October 2017 to November 2018, McKnight had or exchanged material with a minor victim engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

In November, McKnight filed a civil suit against the city of Pickens, its police department and others. The filing alleges McKnight faced employment discrimination based on race and sexual orientation. It also says McKnight was fired wrongfully and in retaliation.

“While [McKnight] worked as an officer, he was romantically pursued by another male over the age of consent,” the suit reads. “The pursuer sent a nude photograph to [McKnight], which [McKnight] did not solicit. The two communicated but did not interact physically.”

In April, Pickens Chief Travis Riggs suspended McKnight for two weeks without pay for “conduct unbecoming of a police officer,” the suit states.

The suit says McKnight “did not violate any rules of law, and the defendants’ actions can be interpreted in no other way than discriminatory.”

Mcknight.jpg
Akiel McKnight J. Reuben Long Detention Center

McKnight filed a grievance, and during a hearing, Riggs changed his position and said McKnight’s actions contributed to the delinquency of a minor, the suit states. McKnight denied the allegations.

In May, Riggs again met with McKnight and changed his position again saying McKnight violated department procedure, according to the filing. The chief again suspended McKnight.

McKnight filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the suit reads. He said he was then fired.

A statement from the city of Pickens says McKnight was fired in May after working for two-and-a-half years. City officials declined further comment.

The lawsuit was moved to federal court where the defendants answered and stated McKnight communicated with a high school student in a sexual nature.

The defendants also deny Riggs changed his position, but rather added to his stance on ways McKnight violated procedures. They also say the officer was told his conduct “was inappropriate and exhibited a lack of judgment,” the answer states.

According to WPDE, McKnight was employed with Georgetown for one day in October but was terminated due to “supplemental information obtained after a background investigation.”

This PSA on sextortion warns that anything private shared online could be used against you. If someone demands sexual images from you, stop immediately and report it. For more information, visit ProjectSafeChildhood.gov

Alex Lang is the True Crime reporter for The Sun News covering the legal system and how crime impacts local residents. He says letting residents know if they are safe is a vital role of a newspaper. Alex has covered crime in Detroit, Iowa, New York City, West Virginia and now Horry County.

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