Former Horry County police chief addresses investigations, lawsuits

Former Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes asked state law enforcement officials to investigate four of her officers in the past year, including former Detective Allen Large, for potential wrongdoing when they worked for the police agency.

Rhodes revealed those additional investigations by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to The Sun News on Wednesday during a wide-ranging interview in which she briefly addressed pending lawsuits against the agency and the reason for her recent retirement.

“I want to speak up for the Horry County Police Department, they seem to be misrepresented right now because of the actions of a few officers, and I think it’s not fair to the officers there right now working hard, to be painted with one brush based on the actions of a few officers,” Rhodes said.

“They’re family to me, and I don’t like the fact that people are calling the police department corrupt,” Rhodes said. “I don’t like the fact that people are saying the police department is being investigated by SLED, when in actuality, it’s a few officers that are being investigated, and they are being investigated because I requested them to be investigated.”

Rhodes said that she reported Large to SLED after he was dismissed from the agency on charges of sexual harassment last year. She confirmed that a second officer under investigation is former Detective Daryl Williams, who resigned in 2014.

The police department is named as defendants in two lawsuits by unnamed victims identified as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2. The lawsuits, filed in December and last week, say the women were sexually assaulted by a detective after he was assigned to investigate rape cases they reported with the department against unknown assailants.

The lawsuit filed by Jane Doe 2 identifies Large as the detective, the lawsuit filed by Jane Doe 1 does not name the detective.

Large has denied the sexual assault accusations in sworn testimony during a deposition given in March, but admitted to asking the two Jane Does, as well as a third woman who was a victim of domestic violence, to participate in the videotaping of a sexual fetish referred to as catfighting.

Rhodes declined to discuss the lawsuits in detail because she will be called as a witness to testify. She said that lawsuits against police agencies are common, and that the litigation was not a factor in her decision to retire.

Rhodes was appointed police chief in 2012. She announced her retirement April 25 after more than 23 years with the department. She said the decision to retire, and the $60,000 payment by Horry County into her retirement fund allowing her to collect full benefits 19 months early, was a mutual decision she reached with Chris Eldridge, Horry County administrator.

“It was really a conversation between myself and the administrator, that’s how it came about,” Rhodes said. “I was ready to retire.”

“We looked at severance packages because severance packages are commonplace, and when we looked at the cost, it was a minimal cost and it was already in the budget for the police department, so it was something that was doable,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said her primary reason for seeking early retirement was to spend more time with her teenage son.

Rhodes said she requested that SLED investigate three officers last year, and she made an additional request this year to investigate another officer. She fired Large on July 31 after an internal investigation confirmed allegations of sexual harassment, according to the termination letter obtained by The Sun News through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Thom Berry, SLED spokesman, confirmed that the first request to investigate was received in November, but declined to comment Wednesday on how many individuals within the department are part of the agency’s ongoing investigation.

“These four officers that we’re speaking of are not the only officers SLED has come in and assisted us with in the past,” Rhodes said of the police department, which employs nearly 300 people.

“We’ve had complaints on officers that indicated there could be some criminal activity involved and we asked SLED to come in on numerous occasions. So, the fact that I requested SLED to investigate police officers is nothing new. Every agency does that, so that wouldn’t be a reason for me to want to retire,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said she requested the outside investigations because she wanted to make a culture change in the department.

“I think you have to set a standard that misconduct is not going to be tolerated, and we’re going to look into it,” she said.

After Large was fired, Rhodes said she instructed police department officials to review open and closed cases handled by the former detective during a certain timeline to “make sure that all of the cases were investigated properly.”

Rhodes said she did not recall how many cases that included, or the specific timeline. She said the review is common practice after employees have been terminated.

“(The review) is coming across as something negative, when in fact it was just us making sure that the citizens are receiving the services that they deserve. We didn’t receive any complaints whatsoever about any of those cases, I chose to go back and make sure that all of those cases were investigated appropriately,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said she devoted her life and career to the police department and Horry County, and says that some of the accomplishments had a positive effect on the agency and community.

New detectives had not been added to the ranks in 15 years, Rhodes says she hired seven. More officers were also added to the department through the creation of the street crimes unit and gang task force. Victims’ advocate positions that were eliminated due to budget cuts during Chief Johnny Morgan’s tenure were reinstated under Rhodes.

Rhodes said she streamlined the system of reporting and investigating complaints made against police officers so that a record was kept of all complaints to pinpoint red flags signaling a potential problem with an officer.

She says her biggest accomplishment was establishing the accreditation process to update policies and ensure professionalism within the agency.

“I honestly believe that I have given everything that I have to give to the Horry County Police Department,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said that her desire to retire was motivated by a need to spend more time with her teenage son before he graduates high school and leaves home for college.

“For the last four years, I’ve not been a very good mom to him because I’ve not been there. He’s 17 now so I want to focus on spending time with him,” she said.

Rhodes said that she still has professional goals she would like to achieve, but for now, says that the only job she is focused on is that of being a mother.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson