Search for new Horry County police chief could be delayed

Former Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes
Former Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes The Sun News

The search for a new chief of the Horry County Police Department is expected to begin in June but could be delayed because of internal upheaval prompted by a state investigation, two lawsuits by victims of sexual assault and an uncertain future as an independent agency.

The county paid more than $60,000 into former Chief Saundra Rhodes state retirement account so that she could claim those benefits 19 months early and leave the agency. Her last day on the job was May 6. Rhodes was paid $110,000 as chief.

The controversy surrounding the agency has prompted renewed calls for a merger of the county police department with the sheriff’s department. Horry County is the only county in South Carolina to have separate police and sheriff departments.

“With the merger talks, it may not be wise to advertise until we know where that’s going,” said Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman. “This could play a part on when we do advertising” for the position.

The chief job was not immediately advertised. Bourcier said county officials planned to “get past the budget process and bike week” before focusing their efforts on filing the slot. Talks of merging the two departments came up last week.

Deputy Chief Kevin Waites was appointed acting chief until a permanent replacement for Rhodes is hired. Deputy Chief Scott Rutherford announced his retirement last week. Acting as interim deputy chiefs are Lance Winburn and Maurice Jones.

With the merger talks, it may not be wise to advertise until we know where that’s going.

Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman

County Councilman Paul Prince suggested merging the two law enforcement agencies, which was later endorsed by Sheriff Phillip Thompson. Consolidation would have to be approved by Horry County voters, who rejected the move in a 1998 election.

Asked what has changed since voters last weighed in on the issue, Thompson said the county police department had a strong chief during the last election.

“We don’t have a police chief at this particular point,” Thompson said.

Two lawsuits have been filed against the county, one accusing a detective of sexually assaulting a rape victim. The second lawsuit says that an unrelated case of sexual assault was not fully investigated by police until it was recently reopened as part of an internal review of previous cases.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) in November opened an investigation of the police department. SLED spokesman Thom Berry said Wednesday that investigation is ongoing.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson